Born in 1955 in Paris, France, Tova
came to Canada when she was 18
months old with parents who spoke
seven and nine languages, respectively.
Although she had an uneventful
childhood in Calgary, attending
Yiddish schools and acting in school
and community theaters, the night-
mare of her mother's experience in
Poland during the Holocaust was
etched into her consciousness.
"My mother and her cousin basical-
ly spent five years in the woods," she
says. "Her father had been a leader in
the Warsaw ghetto, and when Hitler
came to power, her father said, `If he's
going to get anyone, it will be me,' so
the family sold their possessions and
hid out in the country.
"My mother and her cousin, both
14 years old, both named Bryna, were
in the cornfield when her father was
captured and shot. He shouted at
them to run, so they ran and they
As an adult, Tova crafted a musical
play about the two girls' experiences,
as filtered through the multiple lenses
of love, imagination and feminism.
The play, Still The Night, opened in
Toronto in 1996 and has since won
four Dora Awards, the Canadian
equivalent of a Tony Award.
"I'd been telling these stories my
whole life," says Tova. "Growing up in
the '70s, reading Betty Friedan, I said,
`Wait a minute, you're talking about
brave women, women taking control?
I'll tell you about brave women.'"
Still The Night is included in a new
collection of plays, A Terrible Truth:
An Anthology of Holocaust Drama; the
second volume in a series, it is slated
for publication in February 2004.
Tova's musical play will be in good
company; also included in the col-
lection will be Pulitzer Prize-winning
playwright Arthur Miller's Playing
Tova began her career as an actor,
not a singer. She started working on
stage when she was 17 and earned a
bachelor of fine arts degree at the
University of Alberta.
Over the years, Tova has worked
with directors Peter Yates, Nora
Ephron, Peter Bogdanovich and oth-
ers. She has been in the United States
touring production of Ragtime, soloed
with the San Francisco Symphony
under Michael Tilson Thomas; and
appeared in leading roles at Canada's
Stratford Festival, including director
Susan Shulman's production of Fiddler
on the Roof, in which she played Yenta.
But it was as one of the stars of the
television show "ENG," which ran on
Canadian TV from 1989 to 1994, that
she gained the most name and face
recognition. This recognition is what
launched her cabaret career.
"I had never been trained as a
singer," explains Tova, who is married
and the mother of two teenagers.
"I had done some singing in shows,
and a friend asked me to come down
and open this gay bar in Toronto.
Because I was somewhat of a TV
celebrity, they thought it would draw
She sang at that bar "every single
week for the next two years."
An introduction from the president
of Toronto's Jewish gay and lesbian
organization resulted in her singing for
a Holocaust memorial event, and her
exposure in the Jewish community
Over the years, she has sung at
Toronto's Jewish Film Festival, been a
featured performer at the Ashkenaz
Festival held at the city's Harbourfront
Centre, and entertained at countless
Jewish and ethnic events in Canada
and the United States.
In 2001, she performed in the bilin-
gual musical Songs of Paradise, a satiri-
cal retelling of the Book of Genesis, at
New York's Folksbiene Yiddish
Theatre. She has produced two CDs
combining jazz and Yiddish — some-
times singing the same song in two
Tova, who prefers songs that were
written by Yiddish poets and musi-
cians to folksongs, says she has an edge
over most other contemporary Yiddish
"Unlike others, I'm fluent in
Yiddish," she says. "These songs live
in my blood.
"The stories of my mother find a
life in this music. If it speaks to me —
if I can tell stories through these songs
— then I can make them speak to
Theresa Tova performs 8 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 18, at Temple Shir
Shalom, 3999 Walnut Lake
Road, in West Bloomfield, in a
concert of the Birmingham
Temple's Vivace Concert Series.
Tickets: $15 Birmingham
Temple and Shir Shalom mem-
bers and seniors; $18 non-mem-
bers; $12 groups of 10 or more;
$8 students (under 18).
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