Tony Shalhoub, best known for his Golden Globe- and Emmy-winning work on TV's Monk, is also a New York stage favorite, earning Tony nominations for his performances in Act One, Golden Boy, and Conversations With My Father. Yet, the acclaimed actor had never had the chance to be part of a Broadway musical.
That all changed earlier this year when the award-winning Off-Broadway musical The Band's Visit transferred to Broadway's Ethel Barrymore Theatre, recently picking up 11 Tony nominations. One of those many nominations is for Shalhoub's controlled, yet moving performance as Tewfiq, the conductor of the Alexandria Ceremonial Band that mistakenly arrives in the remote village of Bet Hatikva rather than the city of Petah Tikva, home to the Arab Cultural Center.
Now a four-time Tony nominee, Shalhoub tells Playbill the recognition for Band’s Visit was “the most unlikely thing. If anyone had asked me 10, 20, 30 years ago, what would be the least likely occurrence that you'd expect in your career, it would be this, because musicals have not been in my wheelhouse. But, in a way, that makes it all the sweeter. I'm thrilled for the company because these people have worked so hard and for Orin Wolf, the producer, who had the original idea to adapt the movie into a musical. He's been nursing this along for about seven years.”
The actor became involved with The Band's Visit about three years ago at the behest of multiple Tony winner Harold Prince, who was originally attached as director. The Broadway icon invited Shalhoub to be part of an early workshop of the David Yazbek-Itamar Moses musical. “[Prince] was instrumental in convincing me to take it on even though I tried to talk him out of it. He would not take no for an answer. I did these early workshops, and I had always liked the movie. Once I started hearing more and more of David Yazbek's score, I got a strong feeling that it was going to be a beautiful piece.
”It was my wife who convinced me to do it,” Shalhoub continued. “Just out of sure panic and insecurity I was still resisting it. She threatened to leave me if I didn't do it.”
When asked to compare the challenges of performing in a play versus a musical, Shalhoub says, “There's almost no comparison at all. I have enough demons that overtake me when I'm doing a play. But, in this situation, it's almost paralyzing. The other cast members, who are used to doing musicals, kind of allowed me to lean on them heavily. I just feel kind of blessed. I was with the right group of people at the right time.
“There were a lot of moments of questioning and second-guessing myself,” Shalhoub adds. “Why am I doing this? But, really, ultimately what I came to was that it was just a real challenge, and it was a good time in my life and my career to risk failure, and that's a really good reason to go out on a limb and see what happens.”
Watch Shalhoub discuss more details about his character as he greeted Playbill on The Band’s Visit’s opening night red carpet.
The Band's Visit, directed by Tony nominee David Cromer, plays the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, 243 W. 47th St.