Interview with The Band's Visit star Tony Shalhoub

Tom Millward interviews Tony Shalhoub

On the Opening Night of the Broadway premiere of The Band's Visit we caught up with the show's leading man - 3-time Tony Award nominee and 3-time Emmy Award winner Tony Shalhoub.

Familiar to many for his role as Adrian Monk on the long-running TV series "Monk", Mr. Shalhoub has been no stranger to Broadway over the years with acclaimed Tony-nominated performances in Act One, Golden Boy, and Conversations With My Father under his belt. He made his Broadway debut in the 1985 revival of The Odd Couple and was last seen on the Great White Way in the Roundabout Theatre Company's revival of Arthur Miller's The Price this past spring. Having created quite a buzz with the Atlantic Theater Company's world premiere of The Band's Visit last fall, we were eager to find out if he always anticipated a move uptown for the new musical and why he thinks audiences are universally connecting with it.

Tony Shalhoub & Katrina Lenk in The Band's Visit
(Photo by Matthew Murphy)

How was Opening Night for you, Mr. Shalhoub?

You know Opening Nights are always a little wonky, but there was so much love in that audience tonight. Oddly, half the audience have seen the show more than three or four times, but that’s OK. They were very warm and very receptive. We’ve been previewing for a long time – about four weeks – and so we’re kind of relieved now to have this part of it over with. Now, starting tomorrow night, we can just move on with the run and try and grow in it and discover more. And it would be so much fun to do this show in London, when we’re done in New York.

You mentioned that a few of the theatregoers have seen this show a few times already. I’m sure some of them saw it downtown at the Atlantic Theater Company. Did you always have a hunch that it would transfer from off-Broadway and you’d end up celebrating an Opening Night on Broadway?

Well, we always had the hope, but I wouldn’t call it a hunch. I’ve been in this business long enough to know not to bet on anything. But we all trusted in the director and the producer because Orin Wolf - who is the commercial producer – he was always a part of it, even downtown. So his vision was always to develop it and nurture it and sweeten it and then move it up. We just didn’t have any guarantee of that. We all silently hoped, but didn’t wish too hard.

When I watched the show, I loved the Middle Eastern influences with the score and scenic design, but I also felt you could pick the story up and drop it somewhere in England in the middle of nowhere or likewise, somewhere in Africa or South America…

Yes, I agree! That’s what I really love about this piece. Even though the setting is the Middle East, it really could be any two groups of people that had past friction or tension. They’re strangers, but not really sure why they’re adversarial. I think you’re right. I think it fits everywhere.

And your character of Tewfiq has both gravitas and humility – and a wonderful accent and mannerisms to boot. What went into his creation?

Well, that’s a long story. First of all, there’s the original film of The Band’s Visit – not a musical version. So, there’s that template, although I tried not to study that too much. The writer and director gave me the shape and breadth of this thing and I tried to relate it to people I knew when I was growing up. I grew up in a Lebanese-American household. I drew on those kind of characters and it just kinda happened.

Throughout the musical, I had this contradictory feeling that on the one hand, nothing is happening, and on the other hand, everything that could happen in life, is happening. How do you explain that?

(Laughs) Yes! I’ve heard that before. When you try to describe the story, there aren’t really any huge events. It’s more like a slice-of-life kinda thing. But there are seismic changes internally to all of these characters. All of these characters, when we meet them, are kind of stuck or in some sort of state of paralysis, you might say, in their lives or emotional lives or in their situation. Yet somehow, as they reach out to ‘the other’, all of these changes occur. By the time we get to the end of the story, I think the audience feels that the characters have gone through a massive change.

The Band's Visit Tickets are available now for performances through to April 29, 2018.