I am not a gambling person, but I would bet the house that Freyda Thomas is the only person in our circulation area who had had a 65-year career in show business.
I am not a gambling person, but I would bet the house that Freyda Thomas is the only person in our circulation area who had had a 65-year career in show business. Freyda, 77, is originally from Oxford Circle but moved to Glenside in 2008, “and I intend to leave NEVER. I have had 13 years of great happiness here. The nicest people plus a 4th of July Parade every year except last year.”
Freyda first stepped onto a stage at age 12 at a Montgomery County country club in a prom gown and belted out “They Can't Take That Away From Me.” He father, Eddie Shaw, was a very well known bandleader in the 1950s and '60s. “I still remember the chills up and down my spine,” she said, “as the trumpets, saxes and trombones blared behind me.”
Freyda's brother, Marc, who started with his own band, also sang for senior citizens. “He gave me my start in my career, and without the mentorship of my father, we would not have been able to spend our entire adult lives in show business.
“The gene pool was extensive; my mother also sang and played the piano but not professionally, so we couldn't miss inheriting the talent. My brother, Marc, started on trumpet and switched to drums, and he was the best drummer I ever worked with! God, we were all so talented.”
Another brother, Eric Spiegel, was a brilliant jazz pianist who died after 44 years of substance abuse. He and his singing partner, Wendy Simon, made one album, which is still played on jazz stations all across the country. And Freyda's grandmother was Jenny Chess who had been an actress in Russia and on the American Yiddish stage, but gave it up to raise her children. She used to take Freyda to see plays of all kinds but died in October, 1962, with theater tickets in her purse.
For many years Freyda performed a Broadway musical comedy act, mostly in retirement communities, insisting that she was never cut out for the 9-to-5 routine, but after the pandemic started one year ago, she had 32 cancellations! Needless to say, she was devastated.
“I did one Zoom lecture on 'The Diva Decade' (West Side Story to Cabaret) and sang two songs for a group in Florida recently,” she said. “I chose not to sing as much because the sound on Zoom is sub-par, as anyone will tell you. I'm still trying to figure out how to do a live YouTube show and/or Facebook, because almost all of my groups are not yet open for live entertainment.
“There are some creative things being done in some places: a large, clear plastic shield which stands between the performer and the audience, with everyone except the performer wearing masks, but I can't get enough oxygen to sing with one on. When the weather gets warmer, some places may start doing outdoor entertainment.”
Last summer, Thomas hired a videographer to do a professional one-hour video with three cameras, with only the two of them in his studio. Two of the cameras were focused on a stool, while the videographer operated the third. This entailed Freyda sitting there for two hours while they shot the show in front of a green screen. Then the backgrounds and special effects were weaved in.
The video has been shown both in the Delaware Valley and in Florida retirement complexes several times, but the community has to have a private channel that feeds into the rooms of the residents. That excludes assisted living and nursing facilities, as well as all church and synagogue groups, Freyda's usual audience.
The Northeast High School graduate, who was in that school's first class that included girls, earned a B.A. and M.A. in French and Linguistics at Penn State and an MFA from California Institute of the Arts. She was the oldest student in the class at age 58.
Freyda also taught French at Penn State, Ursinus College and La Salle University as well as French and English at JFK High School in Willingboro, NJ. And she wrote or transcribed from French seven plays, all of which were published, and most were produced. One was Moliere's “Les Femmes Savantes,” which spoofs academic pretension. It was performed in New York in 1991 as “Learned Ladies,” with Edith Stapleton (“Edith Bunker” in TV's “All in the Family”) in the starring role.
In her personal life, Thomas had an early, unsuccessful marriage and two miscarriages during that time. “I don't regret any of it,” she said. “I hope to go on having fulfilling relationships.”
Regarding the pandemic, Thomas keeps repeating this mantra: "Everything will be all right in the end, and if it's not yet all right, it's not yet the end." She added, “I had my first Covid shot on March 4, subsequently tripped on the sidewalk as I was leaving and fractured two ribs. My second shot is scheduled for April Fool's Day. (Ed. Note: This interview was conducted in mid-March.) I can't wait to see what will happen then!”
For more information, visit freydathomas.com. Len Lear can be reached at email@example.com