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Q&A: Tony Danza

You may know Tony Danza best from his television years ("Taxi," "Who’s the Boss?") or his short pugilist career. But Danza is also a teacher, song-and-dance man, and storyteller.

Donna Leahey
June 28, 2019

Tony Danza is a beloved actor, singer, dancer, television personality, boxer, writer, and teacher. Since getting his start on the iconic comedy Taxi (1978-83), Danza has consistently performed on television and movie screens as well as the Broadway stage. He cemented his place as a television icon with the long-running hit comedy Who’s the Boss? (1984-92).

Danza hit the big screen for the first time in 1980’s Hollywood Knights. His performance in the 1999 revival of The Icemen Cometh on Broadway garnered rave reviews. His talents have earned him Emmy and Golden Globes nominations and the 1998 People’s Choice Award for Favorite Male Performer in a New Television Series.

The personable and charming Danza is bringing his show Standards and Stories to the Paradise Cove at River Spirit Casino Resort.

Q. Tell us all about your show Standards and Stories.
A. It’s pretty self-explanatory, you know: standards and stories. It’s 20-something songs that are from the Great American Songbook that are a little off the beaten path. [The Great American Songbook, also known as American Standards, is the canon of the most important and influential American popular songs and jazz standards from the early 20th century.] Then there are some stories. Some personal and professional stories that are then used to tie back into the songs to evoke the emotion I’m looking for. A show is an arc; you’re trying to make a connection with the audience, have them leave thinking, “Ah, I know a little bit about this guy.”

It’s been successful. We’ve been playing all over the country, even up in Canada. I also tap dance a little. I also bring out my secret weapon. Do you know what my secret weapon is? My ukulele. Yeah, man, I’m a ukulele player. I try to adapt the American Songbook to the ukulele. Do you know what I did last show? I did Billie Holiday on the ukulele, and it’s great. All those songs lend themselves to the ukulele. It’s hysterical. We have so much fun. It’s one of the most fun parts of the show for me.

Q. What about your band?
A. I’ve got a great band. The guys have been with me for a while. The arrangements are all written by our piano player, John Otto. If you come to New York and see almost any show, he’s the go-to guy for everybody for arrangements and orchestration.

We used to have a road manager named Al, and he used to say, “It’s all about the hang.” Because, you know, you go out on the road, you go to Tulsa, and it’s got to be an enjoyable experience apart from the performance. So, we’ve got this great rapport. A bunch of good guys who I’ve been with for a long time. We’re in sync.

I used to think I was doing a show by myself. I was doing a one-person show, that’s what they call it, right? Then I realized, no, there are four other guys up there with me. And that’s the way it is. It’s a real tight group, and as I say, we’ve been doing this awhile, and we’re pretty good at it. I can’t wait to show people.

Q. What made you want to do a tour like this?
A. I’ve been trying to be a song-and-dance man ever since I had an accident in my early 40s. I hit a tree skiing and almost killed myself. But I wasn’t paralyzed and decided I was going to live and be a song-and-dance man. So that became my thing. I’ve been doing it since like 1996. And I think, to be perfectly candid, I believe in the last four years I finally got it.

Q. What do you think made Taxi so timeless and beloved?
A. It’s interesting about having done a lot of TV shows, some that worked and some that didn’t work. What you find is that a lot of things have to come together in sort of a fortuitous way to make something a hit. So, with Taxi, let’s talk about the things that came together. You had the greatest bunch of producers and writers ever on TV. Jim Brooks, Ed Weinberger, Stan Daniels, and Harvey Miller. It just goes on and on. And then you’ve got the cast. Danny [DeVito], Judd [Hirsch], Marilu [Henner], Jeff [Conaway], Andy [Kaufman] and Christopher Lloyd. It was just a murderer’s row of actors. A lot of things came together to make something work so well.

Recently they did a Taxi marathon in New York, and I watched 19 episodes. I’m telling you, they were all great. Invariably, what they were about was one person getting in trouble and everyone else going to help them. It’s a show about friendship and loyalty. It’s a show about the issues that working people are up against and the dreams that they have. I don’t know how you fashion a more perfect show.

Q. What do you love about Broadway?
A. The first thing that happens when you do a Broadway show is it takes over your life. The rehearsal process is grueling, and once you open, you have to do eight shows a week. And so, it takes everything you have to do the eight shows, especially if you’re doing a musical because you have to sing every night. That’s why I love that. It makes you very disciplined about life because you have to be. I like that. I like discipline.

I played a lot of baseball, football, and basketball. But there’s no team like the team on the musical. So many things have to go right for a musical to go right. I did The Producers on Broadway. It is truly one of the great roles to do.

Q. You act, sing, dance, and used to box. What other talents do you have?
A. I play a little trumpet; I’m terrible. I like to fancy myself as a writer. One of the ironic things in my life is how much I didn’t appreciate being a student when I was young, and now, I’m dying to be a student.

I gave a commencement speech at Northeast High School where I taught. I told the students, ‘You know, there’s a reason they call it commencement. I know you’re graduating, and it’s the end of high school, but it’s the beginning of the rest of your education. You have to try to enjoy being an eternal student. Otherwise, you get less out of life.’ I wish I would have got A’s in high school. I wish I would have got A’s in college. I don’t understand why I didn’t. It aggravates me now.

Q. What’s next for you?
A. Do you know what’s interesting about my life? I was listening to Alan Alda; he’s a hero of mine. And he was saying that his life has been an improvisation. As I get older, I’m starting to think that’s the way life should be. You know, you can’t drive yourself crazy about this or that, but let’s see what happens. I mean, I think that’s what I’m doing.

I’m trying to write a boxing movie called The Hard Way. It’s about my boxing career.

I also imagine what would have happened if I didn’t get Taxi. I try to make every day mean something. That’s what’s next for me.

Tony Danza
Paradise Cove | River Spirit Casino Resort
8330 Riverside Parkway | Tulsa
July 19: 8 p.m.
Must be 21 or older to attend