Tony Danza’s return to Feinstein’s/54Below is not based solely on popular recognition. The beloved sitcom star, with only two musicals under his belt, seems at home on a cabaret stage. Danza is personable and funny; his Brooklyn-accented vocals now more nuanced than during 2015’s Honeymoon in Vegas. Style reflects old school entertainment; he swings, scats, taps, tells a few (good) jokes and reminisces never unbuttoning a well cut jacket. (Ten minutes on his family could be successfully cut.)
Brief numbers swing in with easy phrasing. Hands tell the story as much as lyrics. They open wide, fist, and point; fingers splay, thumbs go up, palms turn down. Danza never stops moving. He bounces, walks in place, shifts his shoulders, occasionally kicks (low). Energy translates as the artist’s excitement at being there. It’s appealing.
A story about his mother’s adoration of Frank Sinatra leads into Ervin Drake’s “It Was a Very Good Year.” Perched on a stool, the actor inhabits the song as if it were a scene. Even pauses are focused. We’re so with him that an abrupt mood change jars. (Give it a minute.) “Angel Eyes” (Earl Brent/Matt Dennis) begins with only MD/Arranger John Oddo’s dark, cool piano. Danza puts a hand in his pocket, strolling across the stage with moody gravitas. The innate roughness of his voice enhances.
“John Updike said people who don’t live in New York are just kidding.” Repartee about the city to which Danza has returned is observant and wry. A breezy version of Ralph Freed/Burton Lane’s “How About You?” follows. Sincerity reigns. “The House I Live In –That’s America to Me” (Lewis Allen/Earl Robertson), apparently added tonight, perhaps in response to current politics, is as straight from the hip as it comes and exudes grace. “I Don’t Remember Growing Up” by his friend Artie Butler radiates warmth.
Three songs from Honeymoon in Vegas (Jason Robert Brown) are included. As sweet gangster Tommy Korman, Danza performed two of these in the show. Tonight, he exuberantly offers “I Love Betsy” which was sung by Jack Singer, the congenitally ambivalent other half of the couple concerned. (Betsy is squired away by Tommy in reaction to Jack’s unwillingness to commit.) The number is infectiously happy, aided and abetted by vocal back-up by the band. Danza’s completely believable. He sparks.
Danza accompanies himself on ukulele for the third of these numbers. He then enthusiastically demonstrates styles one can elevate with the diminutive instrument, from a lilting “Nevertheless I’m in Love With You” (Harry Ruby/Bert Kalmar) through a charming 1920s turn to the ersatz pop “Love Potion Number 9” (Jerry Leiber/Mike Stoller).
The American Songbook is clearly valued by this performer. “Every song we used to listen to growing up was about love,” he muses, “What are these kids gonna hum when they get older?” His approach respects and celebrates tradition. An encore of “Love Is Here to Stay” (Ira and George Gershwin) that “sorta says what we feel about the audience and hopefully how you feel about us” speaks volumes.
Tony Danza captivates.
Dave Shoup-Guitar, John Arbo-Bass, Ed Caccavale- Drums
Photos by Maryann Lopinto
Tony Danza: Standards and Stories
254 West 54 Street
March 17, 18, 31; April 1