By Brian Scott Lipton
Forty years ago, Tony Danza worked his way into America’s hearts as hunk with surprisingly strong comic chops on the hit sitcom “Taxi.” Well, four decades later, Danza can still melt hearts, make us laugh (no matter how hoary the joke), and do so much more, as evidenced by his hit cabaret show “Standards & Stories,” which has returned for a too-brief engagement at the Café Carlyle.
Performing before a packed opening night house that include his family (specifically, his beautiful grown daughters Katie and Emily), famous friends (including former “Taxi” cast-mates Christopher Lloyd and Carol Kane, actress Monique Van Vooren, and Village People singer Randy Jones), and ordinary fans, Danza unleashed every arrow in his arsenal for more than 90 minutes, hitting the bullseye again and again in providing irresistible entertainment.
In addition to telling a handful of jokes and sharing touching (and occasionally self-deprecating) life stories, Danza also broke into a few tap dance solos and demonstrated surprising proficiency on the ukulele, an instrument he played in Broadway’s “Honeymoon in Vegas” (three of its songs, by Jason Robert Brown and Andrew Bergman, appear in this show) and which he used to accompany himself on a wide variety of tunes from the 1950’s pop hit “Love Potion Number 9” to the jazzy “Comes Love” (made famous by the great Billie Holiday).
Musically, however, the bulk of the show consists of saloon-singer-style standards — many made famous by his mother’s idol, Frank Sinatra – performed with suitable flair and taking advantage of the excellent instrumental chaps of his top-notch band (pianist John Oddo, guitarist Dave Shoup, bassist John Arbo, and drummer Ed Caccavale). Among the high points of the show are Danza’s strong renditions of such timeless tunes as “How Little We Know,” “That’s All,” “How About You?,” “Watch What Happens” and “You Go to My Head.”
For real poignancy, it’s hard to beat Danza’s superb takes on the Ervin Drake standard “It Was a Very Good Year,” a gorgeous meditation on youth and aging that Danza freely admitted has new meaning since he became a “senior citizen,” and the patriotic, all-too-timely “The House I Live In,” a song Sinatra recorded originally in the 1940s (and which he continued to perform for decades) and which has since been sung at presidential inaugurations and other important events.
As an expression of pure joy, however, the evening’s highlight was Danza’s spirited version of Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields’ “If They Could See Me Now” (from “Sweet Charity”). Even if the lyrics don’t exactly line up with Danza’s story, his understanding of its sentiment was obvious: that a kid from Brooklyn who grew up with no interest in music and whose acting career could have ended after one hit sitcom is now commanding the world’s most elegant cabaret venue was something he never imagined. Luckily, his friends (and the rest of us) get to watch his dream come true.
Photo: David Andrako
“Tony Danza: Standards & Stories” continues at the Café Carlyle (35 East 76th Street) through March 30. Visit www.ticketweb.com for tickets.