In a superbly crafted show that takes full advantage of his limited talents and succeeds in turning his limitations into virtues, Danza demonstrates that he is a bona fide "personality." When he's out there on stage, he's not selling a song; he's selling himself. And the audience, including these critics, is buying. The vast majority of his fans clearly come to see him because they loved him on TV's Taxi, Who's the Boss? and/or, most recently, on Family Law. We don't know his TV work, so he had to win us over from scratch, which he did the very first time we saw his club act at Rainbow & Stars.
On the present occasion, the Saturday late show at Feinstein's, he was in particularly rare form because a slew of his old castmates from Taxi were in the room: Danny Devito, Rhea Perlman, Carol Kane, and Marilu Henner. As the show progressed, more people kept streaming into the club. The place was soon packed to the point where some SRO spectators began to get a little rambunctious. Danza dealt with them graciously and humorously, never once betraying his nice-guy image.
Part of Danza's charm comes from the fact that he doesn't take himself too seriously. He acknowledges at the start of the show that anyone in the room who hasn't seen him perform might be wondering, "What does he do?" This gets a big laugh. Then he shrugs, smiles, and adds: "Sometimes, they ask that question after they see the act." This gets an even bigger laugh.
While the show is hardly hip or sophisticated, Danza scores by toying with our worst expectations. For instance, he starts an unctuous speech that begins with the sappy sentiment, "If I can make just one person laugh..." and then he slyly, knowingly continues, "...that's not going to be enough!" Oh, and Danza cleverly allows his fans to snap his photo during one number at the end of the show, posing as he sings. This is quite the opposite of arrogance; it's an acknowledgement of his stardom, done with self-effacement and just enough silliness to be utterly charming.
This musical comedy act, an updated version of a show that Danza has previously performed at Feinstein's, features tribute medleys galore. There's a genial doo-wop segment, a collection of songs from the year Danza was born (1951), and a saloon song arc (an unspoken but obvious bow to Mr. Sinatra), plus a salute to Dean Martin. The highlight of the show, however, is Danza's joyful take on Louis Prima's famous 1950s Las Vegas lounge act. It's a medley of more than half-a-dozen Prima hits, strung together with effervescent energy and not a little charisma. This is one of those cases where the audience claps along with no need of instigation, which is how it's supposed to be. The show is, in a word, fun.
Tony Danza continues at Feinstein's at the Regency through July 5; for more information, click here.