For the price of a Broadway ticket, you get not one, not two, but three Tony Shalhoubs -- which is a real treat for fans of the Emmy-winning actor, beloved for TV roles like the obsessive-compulsive Adrian Monk (on USA Network's "Monk") or cabbie Antonio Scarpacci (NBC's "Wings").
Shalhoub, 60, stars as show-biz legend Moss Hart (also Hart's dad, and his eccentric writing partner, George S. Kaufman) in "Act One," a play by James Lapine running at Lincoln Center's Vivian Beaumont Theatre through June 15.
Based on Hart's popular Bronx-to-Broadway autobiography, the play traces the humble beginnings of the man who grew up to write the Pulitzer-winning play "You Can't Take It With You" (with Kaufman), musicals (with Kurt Weill, Rodgers and Hart and film ("Gentlemen's Agreement," "A Star Is Born").
Shalhoub, nominated for a Tony Award for his perfor-mance(s), is married to actress Brooke Adams. He chatted with Newsday frequent contributor Joseph V. Amodio.
Got my money's worth -- three Shalhoubs in one.
It's ... It is daunting. Well, it was. Now, it's gotten fun.
Have you adopted some of these real men's voices or physicality?
Both. The challenge is to differentiate between the three. All we know of Hart's father is that he was from a working-class, British Cockney background. But for Hart and Kaufman, it helps to have different physical gestures in order to switch from one character to the next -- especially when I'm doing fast costume changes backstage. I watched them on video. Kaufman had long limbs, draped himself over the back of chairs, had this withering stare. Hart was pulled together, well-dressed, and just glided along the floor.
Kaufman seems a real piece of work, especially with that obsessive hand-washing.
Some people think I'm just ... regressing into "Monk" mode ... but Kaufman was constantly fearful of germs and getting sick. And he was obsessed with work -- it was 100 percent immersion, hated any distractions.
Guess there are some similarities between Monk and Kaufman.
About one out of every 10 performances, when I run into the bathroom to wash my hands the first time in the show, there's a laugh or an applause of recognition, like I'm doing a nod to Monk ... when it's not my intention at all.
Hometown question -- here in New York, we've been complaining about the cold winter, but it's nothing compared to what you must've grown up with in Green Bay.
Right. When I was a kid, we just accepted it and spent time outside in all kinds of weather. Now, when I go back to visit family or see a Packers game, I get that harsh reminder of just how far north it is. Then, I'm good -- two or three days, I'm cured, and I get out of there.
Back to sunny, warm L.A. You grew up in a big family.
I'm the second youngest of 10.
Is it true your dad immigrated here from Lebanon as an orphan when he was 10? That's got to be a character-defining moment.
Well ... he came with three siblings on the boat, sent for by relatives, so he wasn't alone. But the oldest was only 14. It was 1920, Ellis Island, the whole thing. There wasn't one family here that could take them, so they were split up. So, from an early age, he had a sense of disconnection. I think that's partly why he had a lotta kids. He had as many as he could in the shortest amount of time. My parents are gone now, but the family stays close -- we all get together once a year in Wisconsin.
That's a nice legacy for your dad. I'm curious -- do some of your iconic roles, like Monk, linger in your mind like old friends or relatives? Or do you put them away and move on?
When "Monk" was over, it was like the passing of a dear friend. But it's over. That show was challenging and a real education, being a producer and actor for eight seasons. But I don't carry him around. Maybe some of him rubbed off -- I've become a little more careful about ... cleanliness. It always strikes me as odd that some people don't know it's over. But with endless reruns.... I've done other things since.
And coming up -- I understand you're to be ... a turtle.
Yes, I'm voicing a character in the upcoming "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" movie. I'd no idea how big a deal this was. Apparently ... according to people in their 20s and 30s, and my kids ... this is huge. It wasn't on my radar, I'm embarrassed to say. But from what I've seen, the movie is going to be spectacular.
Well, it's good to know if all else fails, you can pursue turtle work.