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Tony Danza: Standards and Stories at Café Carlyle

The consummate showman sings his life in the key of Sinatra.

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

He'll forget some lyrics, miss a few entrances, and start again when he hits a wrong chord on his ukulele. But one smile from the kindest face on Broadway and you'd pay to watch him fumble with a mic stand all night long. Tony Danza breaks most cardinal rules of the stage in his debut show at Café Carlyle, including the No. 1 tenet: "Never let 'em see you sweat." Unfortunately, during the performance I attended, a malfunctioning air conditioner made both figurative and literal sweating inevitable. But, ever the showman, Danza had no qualms about adding a flash of his soaked-through shirt to an evening of standards, stories, and joyously genuine transparency.

As expected, his late and deeply beloved Broadway musical Honeymoon in Vegas (music by Jason Robert Brown) gets a significant tribute in the latter half of the show. Two of his own characters' tunes make it on the bill — the comedic "Out of the Sun" and "You Made the Wait Worthwhile" (cue the ukulele) — as well as the show's opening number, "I Love Betsy," a song originally performed by his costar Rob McClure but long coveted by Danza.

The rest of the performance harks back to the days of sultry crooners like Bobby Darin and Frank Sinatra — an era in which a good wink, scat, and finely tailored suit added an intoxicating whiff of class to a New York City evening. Danza names Sinatra as one of his only musical influences during what he describes as a thoroughly nonmusical upbringing in Brooklyn, New York, so the program is suitably filled with songs that Ol' Blue Eyes famously recorded. "Angel Eyes," "That's All," and "It Was a Very Good Year" are a few of the more recognizable standards to which Danza lends his serviceable voice (with a swinging band led by musical director John Oddo on piano, Dave Shoup on guitar, John Arbo on bass, and Ed Caccavale on drums). He even dusts off his showstopping tap moves (prominently featured in Honeymoon) for a rendition of Burton Lane and Ralph Freed's "How About You?," which Sinatra sang on his 1955 album Songs for Swingin' Lovers.

He's not the vocal technician that his musical idol was, but Danza is virtually unmatched in charm — especially once he nestles into an easygoing rapport with his intimate Carlyle audience, with whom he comfortably converses. Yet, in line with the evening's spirit of transparency, the performance carries a subtly un-Danza-like air of nostalgic melancholy. He jibes about his age (64 as of April) and his life as a newly single man roaming the streets of Manhattan. Rather than perpetuating his eternally young and carefree television persona (famously born from his hit sitcoms Taxi and Who's the Boss?), Danza brings an uncharacteristic maturity to his cabaret, looking back on his life and career through contemplative songs like "The Second Time Around" (written by his dear friend Sammy Cahn) and "I Don't Remember Ever Growing Up." And then he strums a verse of "Love Potion No. 9" for an impromptu singalong, and his inner child is once again giddy with delight.

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