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Tony Danza Is All About the Standards, Stories, and Fresh Mozzarella

Danza fills us in on his New York cabaret return as well as his latest business venture as co-owner of the oldest Italian cheese store in America.

Tony Danza's got a lot on his plate these days, literally. Along with bringing his acclaimed concert Standards & Stories to Feinstein's/54 Below throughout the months of July, August, and September, he's also serving heaping portions of fresh mozzarella and ricotta at Alleva Dairy, a shop he co-owns in Little Italy.

A boxer-turned-actor-turned-teacher-turned-cheesemonger? All in a day's work for this beloved entertainer, who enjoys giving back as much as he does singing and dancing. When he's not working the counter on Mulberry Street, or performing this cabaret show, which pays tribute to songwriters like Sammy Cahn, Ervin Drake, and Jason Robert Brown, across the country, he can be found working with the child-members of the Police Athletic League. He's trying to change New York City, and he can do it, too.

Tony Danza performing his solo show Standards and Stories at Café Carlyle in 2015.
(© Michael Wilhoite)

How did you come to create Standards and Stories?
I got a call [about] a job at the Carlyle. It was three weeks away and I was like "Somebody must have dropped out, right?" So I took it and I had to write an act. I had been thinking about doing a more adult act anyway. I've been doing a live act for a long time, but it's a lot of shtick. I wanted to get rid of that and try to really concentrate on not only the stories, but the lyrics of the great songs I sing in the show.

Tell me about the show, and the set list.
I was lucky enough, when I first got to Hollywood, to meet Sammy Cahn, who took me under his wing and introduced me to everybody. I tell some of those stories and use some of his songs. My mother was a big Frank Sinatra fan, which leads me into a Sinatra song. It's an attempt to connect with the audience and let them see a little bit of me, and, at the same time, really rely on these incredible lyrics these guys wrote. There's a song I do called "Please Be Kind," by Sammy Cahn. You know what he says? "Please be kind because my dreams are on parade." I think that's so magnificent. "My dreams are on parade." I'm a guy who often has his dreams on parade, so I get it.

And you do some Honeymoon in Vegas too?
Oh, absolutely. It's a heartbreaker. What kills [me] is how well those songs go over. Friday night, I sang in a show that Scott Siegel put together of songs that were originated by people. I finished my song, I did "Out of the Sun," and it got screams. At least I get to do it in the show. You know what else I get to sing? I get to sing something I didn't sing in the show that I love, "I Love Betsy." It's such a smart song and people laugh their heads off.

Tony Danza (center) in the 2015 Broadway production of Jason Robert Brown and Andrew Bergman's Honeymoon in Vegas.
(© Joan Marcus)

What's next for you after this?
I don't know if you know this, but I'm involved with a store downtown, the oldest cheese and Italian specialty store in America. It's called Alleva, on the corner of Grand and Mulberry. It's been there since 1892. I feel like a curator more than a store owner. It's this part of Italian and American and New York history. We make mozzadel' there. You gotta see it to believe it. It looks like something out of a picture book. I'm trying to work on that a little bit.

The other thing I'm doing, which I'm really excited about…My big issue is, I think it's a lot harder to be a kid nowadays. I'm on the board of the Police Athletic League, and they brought me on to be the face of PAL boxing. But I said to them, "Boxing? We're gonna attract three kids and hurt them. How about doing something every kid in the city wants to do? How about doing PAL acting?" [On July 19], we start the pilot program at the Harlem installation. Six weeks, and if we can prove it constant maybe they'll take it citywide. HBO put up the money for the program. The Upright Citizens Brigade is sending people to teach improve. So I'm really, really excited about trying to change the city. It really will.

Tony Danza samples fresh mozzarella at Alleva Dairy in Little Italy.
(© Alleva Dairy)