Actor Tony Shalhoub, a University of Southern Maine theater program alum, announced a major gift to USM’s ongoing Center for the Arts project during an appearance Thursday at the Portland campus. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Emmy- and Tony-winning actor Tony Shalhoub, who was a theater student at the University of Southern Maine 45 years ago, was back at the school Thursday to help the ongoing effort to build an arts center on the Portland campus.

Shalhoub, 69, was named honorary chair of the fundraising campaign for USM’s proposed new center for the arts and pledged $150,000 of his own money at a news conference at the school Thursday morning. Shalhoub also announced a $500,000 challenge donation by the Maine-based Crewe Foundation. Those donations bring the fundraising total to $23.5 million of the $25 million needed for the center. USM officials said Thursday construction could begin in the fall.

Shalhoub, who lives in New York, said he wanted to be involved with the new center for the arts because of how crucial his time as a USM theater student was to his life and career. Talking about his time at USM before the news conference, Shalhoub credited his professors at the school, especially Thomas Power, with nurturing his love for acting and convincing him he could pursue it as a career. After USM, he was admitted to the Yale School of Drama in New Haven, Connecticut, which propelled him to his long acting career.

“This place had such an impact on me, it was so nurturing and vital, provided excellent training and really was the launching pad for my career,” said Shalhoub, who graduated from USM in 1977. “I would not have known that something like Yale Drama School was possible for me if not for this place. I feel really indebted to this place and this community.”

Shalhoub said he is excited to help the new center for the arts in any way he can, including as a “spokesman, cheerleader, whatever is needed.” He said he thinks the center will help future generations of art, theater and music students at the college attain their dreams, as he did.

“I think it’s really important that the university continue to support what has been a strength for it and hopefully building this will help attract more students,” in the arts, music and theater, Shalhoub said.


After the news conference, Shalhoub met with about a dozen theater and musical theater students at USM, in Hannaford Hall on the Portland campus. He asked students where they were from and what they are studying.

As planned, the USM Center for the Arts would include an art gallery, visual arts teaching space, rehearsal space and studios, a 200-seat performance space and the Kate Cheney Chappell Center for Book Arts. It will also house the university’s Dr. Alfred and D. Suzi Osher School of Music.

There would be a touring component, where theater or music productions would premiere at the center, then tour Maine and New England. It’s slated to be built between Bedford and Falmouth streets on the Portland campus.

An architect’s rendering of part of USM’s proposed arts center, as it would look from the campus green. Photo courtesy of University of Southern Maine

Money for the art center has been raised as part of USM’s Great University Campaign, which is also raising money to support scholarships and investments in school programs. That overall campaign has raised about $44.5 million of a $46 million goal, USM officials said Thursday.

The Crewe Foundation gift announced Thursday is a matching gift, with a stipulation that for every $2 donated by someone else, the Crewe Foundation will donate $1, up to $500,000. The Crewe Foundation was created by brothers Dan and Bob Crewe, who both worked in the music business. Bob Crewe, who died in 2014, was best known for his work as a producer and songwriter for the 1960s pop group The Four Seasons. Dan Crewe is chair of the Great University Campaign and was at the news conference Thursday.

Shalhoub said he does not get back to Maine as often as he’d like. He said he and his wife, actress Brooke Adams, did visit Waterville last summer because Adams had a film being shown at the Maine International Film Festival there. Shortly after taking the podium Thursday, in front of media, USM officials and students, he said with a smile that he was “looking at real estate listings right now” in the area and that “it feels so good to be back here.”


On Wednesday night, he had dinner with Power, his former professor, and others involved with the university.

Shalhoub won three Emmy Awards for lead actor in a comedy series between 2003 and 2006, playing the neurotic lead character in the detective show “Monk.” In 2019, he won a supporting actor Emmy for playing the title character’s bumbling father in the Prime series “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” He just finished his fifth season of that show.

“It’s one of the best jobs I’ve ever had, ” Shalhoub said of his role on the show, which is set in the 1950s and 60s. “I work with such great people and we have fun. I loved that time period, it’s when I grew up.”

Shalhoub talks to a small group of USM theater and musical theater students Thursday on the Portland campus. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

His Tony award came in 2018, for lead actor in the Broadway musical “The Band’s Visit.” He played the stiff leader of an Egyptian orchestra that accidentally ends up in an Israeli town. Shalhoub said Thursday he will soon be working on a “Monk” movie, which will put his detective character in the post-pandemic world.

A native of Green Bay, Wisconsin, Shalhoub first came to USM as an exchange student in the mid-1970s, while he was enrolled at the University of Wisconsin at Green Bay. But he liked the school and especially its theater program, and decided to transfer. He graduated from USM in 1977 and also acted around Portland, including at Profile Theatre (now Portland Stage) and the Children’s Theatre of Maine.

His breakout role was playing an Italian cab driver in the NBC sitcom “Wings” in the 1990s. His film credits include playing a passionate Italian chef in “Big Night” and a space alien in the “Men in Black” films. His other Broadway roles include “Act One” and “Golden Boy.” He has stayed connected to USM, including speaking at the commencement in 2003.

People can learn more about the proposed center for the arts at a neighborhood meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 2, at USM’s Abromson Hall, 88 Bedford St., Portland. The university has filed an application for the project with the city planning department and plans for construction will be discussed. People can attend remotely by registering here.

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