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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Tony Shalhoub back on Broadway in a big way

Green Bay native

GREEN BAY, Wis. - Broadway seems like a long way away from Northeastern Wisconsin, but Green Bay native Tony Shalhoub has reached the fabled Great White Way multiple times as part of a substantial acting career.

He is starring in the musical “The Band’s Visit,” which officially opened Thursday, Nov. 9, at Ethel Barrymore Theatre.

The production already is proven, having earned a slew of Best Musical honors in an Off-Broadway run last season. So there is a buzz.

Based on a 2007 Israeli film of the same name, “The Band’s Visit” is about an Egyptian policemen’s band that takes a wrong turn in the desert. The band ends up stranded in an Israeli town. Shalhoub plays Tewfig, leader of the lost band. Opposite him is Katrina Lenk as a café owner who finds shelter for the band. Politics are barely mentioned by creators David Yazbeck and Itamar Moses.

Shalhoub’s resume always mentions his birthplace, Green Bay. He was still a student at Green Bay East High School when he performed in a leading role in a play at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.

His education route took him to Maine and Yale.

Shalhoub’s first role on Broadway was in the female version of “The Odd Couple.” He played Jesus Costazuela, a Spanish gent who with his brother have a disastrous date with the “odd couple” women played by Rita Moreno and Sally Struthers.

Two things I remember from an interview with Shalhoub about that appearance: One was how cool he thought it was reading for the part for playwright Neil Simon in Simon’s apartment. The other was what he saw in the men’s room at the famed Sardi’s restaurant during the opening-night party: The hand towel container emblazoned with “Fort Howard,” a reminder of the paper-making company from home.

Shalhoub turned 64 in October. He’s been around the block in television, movies and theater.

He starred in the foodie movie “Big Night.” His role was Primo, an idealistic chef who is a stickler for serving Italian cuisine perfectly. He played opposite Stanley Tucci as Secondo, Primo’s brother, whose standards are lesser.

I’ve got a “Big Night” story. My wife and I took a Caribbean cruise after the movie came out. One night, we sat at a dinner table with foodies. “Big Night” came up as a topic. Everybody had great admiration for the movie and for Primo. A fellow from New Jersey went on and on about how much he loved the movie and how Tony Shalhoub represented the ultimate in Italian chef-dom. When I told the fellow that Tony Shalhoub was from Green Bay, Wisconsin, he was stunned. When I told him that Tony Shalhoub was of Lebanese, not Italian, background, he was dumbfounded. That’s called good acting.

Shalhoub has been in a bunch of movies. Some that may ring a bell are “Men in Black,” “Galaxy Quest” and “Cars” (as the voice of Luigi the Fiat).

Close to home, Shalhoub lent his name to the movie “Feed the Fish,” a romantic comedy set in Door County.

When Shalhoub came to Green Bay on a promotional swing for the movie, that was the only time I met him in person. We laughed how we kind of knew each other from phone interviews.

Shalhoub is no stranger to TV audiences. Included are such series as “Wings,” “Stark Raving Mad” and “BrainDead” and TV movies as “That Championship Season.” Notable was “Monk,” which brought three Emmys and other awards.

When his brother, Bill Shalhoub, heard on his car radio that Tony was up for a Golden Globe Award in 2002, he had to pull off the road because of emotion. “It was kind of a shock,” Bill Shalhoub said in an interview with me at the time. “The show is receiving so much recognition these days. I’m very proud of him.”

Theater has always been a big part of Tony Shalhoub’s resume. He’s played numerous roles in many theaters and has caught attention with Tony-nominated roles in “Conversations with My Father,” “Golden Boy,” “Act One” and “The Price.”

“The Band’s Visit” is apparently the first time that Shalhoub sings on stage.

Also in the cast is a person known not so much by his name but for a play that has struck a chord with audiences in the region (and elsewhere), “Almost, Maine.” Playwright John Cariani plays an Israeli man who invites the Egyptian band into his home.

Opening night flurry aside, Shalhoub and his wife, Brooke Adams, are performing Monday, Nov. 13, in a staged reading with Commonwealth Shakespeare Company of the Bertolt Brecht drama “Fear and Misery in the Third Reich.” Such is the day-off life for one Broadway actor.

Contact me at Watch for my on-air Critic at Large editions on WFRV-TV at 6:20 a.m. Sundays. My books, “Three Miles Past Lost and in the Pickers” and “Nickolaus and Olive – a naïve opera (in words)” and the award-winning “Real, Honest Sailing with a Great Lakes Captain,” are available online and in Green Bay at Neville Public Museum, Bosse’s and The Reader’s Loft.

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