By Eric J. Grimm
Tony Danza’s reinvention of himself as a song and dance man, much like his reinvention of himself as an inner city school teacher, is something that I admire. Here is a star, someone who spent the 70s and 80s as one of television’s most beaming personalities, trying his damndest to start anew, time and time again. If the audience of his residency at 54 Below is any indication, he can and did do it quite successfully. Nancy, a woman who sat next to me during a performance, let me know beforehand how much she loved Tony Danza and how excited she was that he would be singing her favorite songs. She clapped enthusiastically when he began to sing familiar tunes and often leaned over to her husband to say, “I love him!” Although Danza comes up short when crooning a Gershwin tune, he coasts through his set marvelously with an awkward grin and handsomeness that has only grown with age.
Danza sticks solidly to the kind of tunes you would expect him to sing from the Great American Songbook, assisted with traditional arrangements from musical director John Oddo. He oozes the same charm that made him a star but his affability doesn’t quite sell a number like Ervin Drake’s “It Was a Very Good Year.” His stage personality is lovably corny and the tune’s overall feeling of lament never manifests. Featured last year in the musical adaptation of the film Honeymoon in Vegas, he sang a medley of songs from that show. He is most convincing with a medley of Sammy Cahn songs, coupled with his anecdotes about the writer, who was a close friend, and nails the sharing element of cabaret performance that makes an audience so receptive to a performer.
For someone as well-known as Tony Danza, it feels especially revealing and it’s a major treat for a room full of people who already adore him. Indeed, my table-mate Nancy was taken by the whole affair. When the show ended, she told me, “You have to give him a good review. He was wonderful!” I may not share all her enthusiasm, but if he made Nancy that happy, of course he was wonderful.
Tony Danza will perform at 54 Below for two more shows on September 8 and 9. For tickets, visit http://54below.com 254 West 54 St. (cellar)