by Matt Smith
With an effortless effervescence, the resplendent Tony Danza glides onto the stage — jazz hands a-swingin’ — at Feinstein’s/54 Below.
Back at the intimate venue by popular demand (“cause I demanded it!” he quips, with a laugh), Danza delivers a second round of Standards and Stories, delving deftly into his musical past, and sharing anecdotes of family Thanksgivings, the influence of his mother, and yes, even his chance encounter with Billy Wilder, all the while serenading us with the hits he grew up on… the very ones, in fact, that influenced his life and career.
“Long as I’m singin’ / Then the world’s all right / And everything’s swingin’ / Long as I’m singin’ my song!” he declares, with a smile. And sing he does! Accompanied by a spectacular four-piece jazz band, Danza’s full-out easy listening extravaganza is complete with singing, scatting, dancing (yes, Mr. Micelli is quite the hoofer!), and even a demo on the ukulele.
A lot to pack in for sure, but with his quick wit and charismatic charm — the uncanny ability to take charge and command a room, while simultaneously creating a light and playful atmosphere — Danza pulls it off without a hitch aided by his super band of musicians: Kenny Asher on piano, Dave Shoup on guitar, John Arbo on bass and Ed Caccavale on drums.
His breezy back-and-forth with the audience — making casual conversation about everything from his move to New York to Italian cooking tips to life hacks in the romance department (“Romantically, this thing’s a raygun!” he says, of his uke) — instantly puts them at ease. They’re along for the ride, and they relax (and answer back!), because he’s relaxed, too.
And then, of course, the voice. With each number, Danza’s in equally full form, lending his booming baritone to the slower ballads (see: The House I Live In” and “I Don’t Remember Ever Growing Up”) and injecting the uptempo tunes (namely, “You Go to My Head” and “How About You,” the latter in which he breaks out his tap shoes) with an invigorating pep and gusto as only he can do.
But the real joy in the evening is seeing the connection Danza has to his music. He’s simply giddy paying homage to his favorites… and the twinkle in his eye as he relays tales of hobnobbing with the greats, from Frank Sinatra to Sammy Cahn and beyond, lets you know that he’s just as tickled to be there performing these songs for you as you are to be there hearing him sing them.
In this sense, it’s, in fact, not a solo show at all, as he mentions repeatedly throughout the evening. It’s a real give and take, between him, the band, the audience and the dining staff, and he lives in that collaboration from beginning to end. He wants you to relax, eat, enjoy, become educated (both on his life and his influences), but he doesn’t push it down your throat, instead allowing it to come to fruition naturally whenever it does. As a result, you may leave a truly better person, thinking differently about yourself and the world around you. That’s his gift… his charm… his secret.
But not, of course, before he sucker-punches you with a rousing grand finale. Yes, he ends the show returning to the Broadway basics, presenting a jazzy redux — complete with encore tap routine — of Fields and Coleman’s “If My Friends Could See Me Now.”
“This is an Italian fantasy and I lived it, folks!” he says, with a wink, before gesturing the band and exiting — jazz hands a-swingin’ — off stage left. A bona-fide star if ever there was one. If his friends could see him now indeed.
Tony Danza: Standards and Stories played Feinstein’s/54 Below (254 W. 54th Street) on March 18th, and will return to that venue on March 31 and April 1 at 7pm. For tickets and/or more information, visit www.54below.com.