Funny Girl | Eileen T’Kaye is Mrs. Strakosh at the Ahmanson

In conversation with local actress Eileen T'Kaye, making her Broadway National Tour debut in Funny Girl

PHOTO: Robert Dahey | The South Pasadenan | Actress Eileen T'Kaye
PHOTO: Robert Dahey | The South Pasadenan | Actress Eileen T'Kaye

After a prolific 45+ year acting and producing career, Eileen T’Kaye is on her first Broadway National Tour, as Mrs. Strakosh in Funny Girl, now playing in her hometown of Los Angeles at the Ahmanson. I’m speaking to her on the eve of opening night and, after six months on the road, T’Kaye is thrilled to bring the show to L.A.

Angelenos know T’Kaye as not only as an award-winning (Ovation, L.A. Drama Critics Circle, L.A. Weekly, Garland, Drama-Logue) producer and character actress who has graced stages like the Geffen Playhouse, Disney Hall, La Mirada, Reprise!, and Boston Court, but also as a produceder of shows and the Founding Producing Director of Boston Court Pasadena, where she still serves on the board of directors. She lives with her husband, David, in Pasadena and with her run at the Ahmanson, is currently enjoying “working from home” so to speak.

A bit of background on her relationship with Boston Court. When Clark Branson decided to build a theater from scratch in Pasadena, he called on his longtime friend, Eileen T’Kaye, to come on board first to oversee the actual building of the theater itself and then to become a founding producer. “Clark had this idea that he wanted to build this intimate space that could give particularly new work, a place kind of like a big theater but in a tiny package. And it was really built and designed for the idea of doing new work and giving birth to new theatre and music and other art forms,” says T’Kaye. She stayed on for the first several years, producing shows, until she felt they had a full team of great people in place and “mom” could leave and go do her other work. “My first love is acting,” she says, “I love producing, but I wanted to get back to my acting work. I left Boston Court in great hands and I’m so proud of what they’ve been accomplishing throughout the years – it’s extraordinary. I think what’s really great about Clark is that he wanted the space to be for the community as well as for the artists – he wanted it to be comfortable for everybody and give it whatever he could afford to do to make it a space that artists would love working at and audiences would love coming to, and you feel that in the building.”

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T’Kaye was born in mid-city Los Angeles and lived there most of her life as a shy child who came alive when she was dancing and singing, acting out Broadway shows for her parents in their living room. “It’s pretty funny to see a four-year-old kid singing Aldonza’s songs from Man of La Mancha,” says T’Kaye laughing, “but I was just in love with it!” But if anyone came over, anyone she didn’t know, she would clam up. “I was just very shy – still am to some degree – sometimes I become a little wallflower. But now when I’m singing and dancing, doing a show, I come out of my shell.” She started performing in school singing groups and when she hit junior high, she had a life-changing drama teacher and did her first show where she starred as a nun. “My mother thought it was hysterical and from then on, I knew what I wanted to do.”

T’Kaye studied at UCLA in an interdisciplinary program called Ethnic Arts. “It tapped into everything I loved – it was music and dance and folklore and art – and I concentrated in theater. I studied puppetry, sign language, archeology and art – so it gave me this well-rounded view of things that I really loved.”

But she says she really learned to act by doing, beginning by working in the 99-seat theatre world, “I was really lucky to work with some great directors and artists who I learned from – because I think ultimately, besides living life and looking at the human condition and doing a lot of reading and research, that’s where actors learn what they need to know. So that was my training.”

She eventually also fell into producing because early in life, she was involved with her family’s small business. Her mother taught her bookkeeping. “I was really lucky in that, so because I had this business background, I was the one that was always like “let’s produce a show”, she says. T’Kaye ended up producing and general managing for countless shows as well as assisting others in the theatre industry with bookeeping and tax prep through the years. It was during this time that she met and started working with Clark Branson. You could say she was really a jack of all trades in the theatre community, all while continuing to perform as well. After years of working on the Boston Court project, she and her husband decided it was time to leave mid-town and come out closer to the Pasadena area. “I just fell in love with Pasadena and I wanted to be in a neighborhood again – I love it here.” The couple moved into an old Craftsman home in 2017.

PHOTO: Matthew Murphy | The South Pasadenan | First National Touring Company of Funny Girl.
PHOTO: Matthew Murphy | The South Pasadenan | First National Touring Company of Funny Girl.

Cut to a year ago February when T’Kaye received an invitation to audition for the Funny Girl National Tour. “I don’t know if it’s because things had opened up more after Covid in terms of video submissions, but I thought, ‘that’s weird but okay, great!’.” She sent in her submission and got a final callback to fly out to New York. “I had never really thought about a tour – I never could leave because I have so many things going on but now I actually could leave so I asked my husband if he was okay with me leaving because I have to at least be willing to do this. He is just so supportive even though it would upside down our whole life – but he said, “you know you have to go.” So off I went, did the audition and a week later they offered me the tour. I couldn’t quite fathom it but I decided to go for it because if not now, when?”

T’Kaye plays Fanny Brice’s mother’s best friend, Mrs. Strakosh, as well as understudies for Mrs. Brice, for which she has gone on for about 25 times so far. “It’s been thrilling to work on two roles and with this company I have to say I hit the jackpot. I know a lot of people who have gone on tour and sometimes it can be difficult – it’s a hard life on the road. But this show, the creative people, the company – there isn’t a diva anywhere near it. It’s a company of people that love doing what they’re doing and doing a show that we really believe in. It feels like destiny and it happened the way it was supposed to.”

PHOTO: Corey Marineau | The South Pasadenan | First National Touring Company of Funny Girl.
PHOTO: Corey Martineau | The South Pasadenan | First National Touring Company of Funny Girl.

She does acknowledge that touring is hard, week to week in different cities, living in hotels away from friends and family. “It’s wonderful to sit down for a month in one location and to come home and be here at the Ahmanson is really exciting. I’ve performed at a lot of theaters in town but there’s something about playing a big house in a Broadway show that gets people really excited, so I have a lot of people coming to see the show – people in my neighborhood are all excited. I grew up going to the Taper and the Ahmanson and they have a new artistic director (Snehal Desai) that we’re very excited about so it’s thrilling to be a part of this new growth that’s happening at Center Theatre Group. Excited to be able to be home and drive to work!”

T’Kaye lights up the stage with her funny and vivacious performance and is clearly having a ball. When I ask her more about her role she lights up saying, “oh the delightfulness of Mrs. Strakosh! She is a friend of Mrs. Brice (Fanny’s mother) from the neighborhood from the Lower East Side and she, Mrs. Brice and Mrs. Meeker, our third poker buddy, are longtime friends from the neighborhood. They are competitive but they have a deep relationship. Strakosh is a traditionalist and she just doesn’t understand why Fanny or Mrs. Brice thinks that Fanny can be a star because she’s not the “traditional” showgirl type.”

For those unfamiliar, Funny Girl is based on the life and career of 1910’s & 20’s Ziegfeld Follies comedienne, Fanny Brice. “So Strakosh is one of the naysayers,” explains T’Kaye. “So she advises Fanny to get married and have children like her daughter, Sadie, because that’s what you do. And God bless her, even when Fanny makes it, Strakosh still can’t believe it happened! But you know, she loves Fanny and Mrs. Brice – their friendship is very strong and I think there’s a great love but also a great competitive streak. So that’s who Mrs. Strakosh is for me. She’s delightful.”

The character is quite different than T’Kaye who is a self-described nurturer. “You see talent, you nuture it,” she says. “But the surprising thing has been finding those moments of when the competition becomes the delight she finds when Fanny makes it. Even though she can’t believe it, she’s excited to go backstage and meet Mr. Ziegfeld and see all the girls – it’s like being a part of show business. So discovering those little moments when she can let the naysaying go, when she realizes that Fanny’s a star and she’s a part of it – and she realizes that Fanny’s even taken some of her schtick and put it in her show. All of that has been fun for me because I’m also stealing things from my family, some of my aunts, to play Mrs. Strakosh.”

T’Kaye says working with Melissa Manchester is thrilling and she’s excited for Angelenos to discover Katerina McCrimmon, who plays Fanny. “I think Katarina is going to be catapulted into the heavens! She is extraordinary,” says T’Kaye. “So it’s like watching the story of Fanny Brice but we’re also watching the story of Katarina McCrimmon. The whole cast is amazing but Katerina carries the show and I’m thrilled for L.A. to discover her now because she has something really special.”

PHOTO: Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade | The South Pasadenan | Katerina McCrimmon as Fanny Brice in the National Tour of Funny Girl.
PHOTO: Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade | The South Pasadenan | Katerina McCrimmon as Fanny Brice in the National Tour of Funny Girl.

At an age when many of her friends are already retired or contemplating retirement, T’Kaye is on her first Broadway tour. As taxing as a tour is, I ask her what makes her want to continue working in theatre. “I don’t know how to describe the feeling of being able to be on stage and tell a story,” she tells me. “We’re all storytellers to some degree and there’s something for me about being able to take on a role in a play that tells a story. Obviously there are certain stories that really speak to me and those are the ones I want to do. There is something really thrilling for me to be able to make people listen to a story, to feel something, learn something, to laugh, to cry – if I can take them to a different place, to a different world. It’s always been thrilling for me and, God willing, it always will be.”

I tell her it sounds like she is in alignment with her purpose. “I just feel like I’m home when I’m on the stage,” she says. “It feels natural, it feels like where I should be.”

Tickets for FUNNY GIRL are available through, Audience Services at (213) 972-4400 or in person at the Center Theatre Group Box Offices (at the Ahmanson Theatre) at The Music Center, 135 N. Grand Avenue in Downtown L.A. 90012.

Performance Schedule —Tuesday through Friday evenings at 8:00 p.m.; Saturdays at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; Sundays at 1:00 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.  For more information, visit