Tovah Feldshuh likes variety, in her career and in her travels. In the last 12 months, she has left her home in the Hamptons to visit Tibet, Bhutan, Huayna Picchu (the mountain above Machu Picchu), the Atacama Desert, Lake Titicaca, Mount Kilimanjaro, and, most recently, Italy.
"I have wanderlust and want to know the globe, be a citizen of the world," she says softly. "Between acting jobs, I knew that there were mountains that I wanted to climb - literally, figuratively - and I did that."
Wanderlust guides Feldshuh aesthetically, too. She's a proudly impossible-to-pin-down artist who moved recently from the role of a strong and noble camp matriarch in the grim TV drama The Walking Dead to the comically singing, picayune mother in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.
Now, there's her cowritten, autobiographically inspired cabaret show, Aging Is Optional ('Cause God I Hope It Is!), which brings her to Prince Theater's RRazz Room for two shows Saturday. From there, it's back to rehearsals for the Broadway-bound musical Queen of Mean: The Rise and Fall of Leona Helmsley. Feldshuh stars as the late, famously grumpy hotelier.
Doing her own thing as a cabaret artist within the singing-joking framework of Aging Is Optional is "like starring in my own musical," Feldshuh says. This is her most personal work to date, "about an actress with a certain amount of experience, not wanting to age or diminish, but showing and singing about how wonderful it is to be alive."
"I don't want to be typecast. As an actor," Feldshuh says, "I'm trained to do anything and everything."
Two years ago, at 60, she hit the trapeze for a revival of Pippin, even though she had never worked the big-top attraction. "I used to hang upside down on my swing set when I was a child, so there's that, but doing the trapeze now brought me great joy. I felt as if I was 3 years old again. You put an old bird on a trapeze and have her hang upside down - you do what is required of you - and you'll bring down the house."
She's used to stopping the show on and off Broadway and in touring productions here, such as her portrayal of Mama Rose in Gypsy at the Bristol Riverside Theatre, or her emotional take on Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir in Golda's Balcony. Snippets of that performance can be seen on film at the National Museum of American Jewish History.
"I've worked Philadelphia often and had much good fortune there," she says of acting in everything from M. Night Shyamalan's Lady in the Water to singing engagements at the Bellevue and Ritz Carlton to doing Yentl in 1975 at the Walnut Street Theatre.
Her tenacity during that production, her Broadway first, landed her in theater-history books, such as Davi R. Napoleon's Chelsea on the Edge.
"Yentl was a part I loved dearly, and the director, Robert Kauffman, asked for nudity - as he did in all of his shows at that time," Feldshuh says. "I knew there was no competition between my face and my lovely, though small, breasts at the play's climax. I knew I'd lose the audience and that he would be sacrificing the play just for a glance at my bosoms, and I said no."
Standing her ground gave her a reputation for smarts to go with her talents.
"Now, I call Robert and joke that we should do a revival and show my breasts before they fall to my belly button," she says with a laugh.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend incorporates the sort of singing/dancing/joking talents that are familiar territory for Feldshuh. "Plus," she says, "that show is hilarious."
As Deanna Monroe on AMC's The Walking Dead, she found a way to create hope within the hopelessness of zombies and death. " 'Always with hope' is how I sign autographs as Deanna whenever I do the ComiCon fests," she says, laughing.
Feldshuh works hard to uncover the essence of the characters she plays.
"You dig deep enough into characters so that people, viewers, dig deep enough to find their own connection, run their own movie, stage their own play. That's compelling, what drives me - that and gleaning great joy and finding some sense of learning in the parts that I play. Now that my parents are gone, I only take roles that resonate with me. If not, I'd rather keep traveling, man. I want an adventure."
"Aging Is Optional ('Cause God I Hope It Is!)"
3 and 8 p.m. Saturday at the RRazz Room at the Prince Theatre, 1412 Chestnut St.
Information: 215-422-4580 or princetheater.org.