He's not from the Valley, but Tony Danza's January 24 appearance in the Valley is something of a homecoming.
It's more than the local cousin he "hasn't seen in forever" or the visiting alumni group from his alma mater, the University of Dubuque. Danza the Entertainer was born right here in Phoenix. It's also where he boxed his final match, back in May 1979.
"That was the night I realized I couldn't fight anymore," Danza recalls. "I had Taxi by then, and so I came back 'cause I had this dream to become a champ and have a show. I think I trained at Camelback and won the fight and knocked the guy out. But I took an overhand right I shouldn't have, and I just had to give it up."
This time through, we’re not getting Danza the boxer or Danza the beloved TV actor (Who's the Boss?, Family Law, The Good Cop, etc.). Not even the joyous daytime talk show host. Instead, Danza is putting on his Standards & Stories, a one-man show (albeit with a four-piece band) that sees him singing and sharing yarns.
"I’ve got a formula," he says. "Open with some songs, talk a little with the crowd, and then use a song to evoke the emotion of the story I am telling. I finished the last show around November, and I’m dying to get back. It’s like with actors, unless you’re the really big guys, you’re always unemployed between things."
Danza says there are also more personal entries this time around, tales about growing up and his relationship with his father. Whatever the stories, he always relies heavily on the Great American Songbook to enhance his stage show.
"The Songbook just affords so many opportunities for emotions," he says. "Then it’s up to me to find a way to connect the lyrics to a story, even if it’s the one about my mother wanting to meet Frank Sinatra."
Musical theater has become a huge passion for Danza, and he's spent a lot of time in recent years building an impressive resume. In addition to his touring dates, he's had stints on Broadway in The Iceman Cometh, The Producers, and Honeymoon in Vegas. The stage is a place he feels he can truly flourish.
"I'll be performing, and I'll just totally be in the moment," he says. "As natural as I can be, trying to make a song or a joke work. It took me 20 years to learn, but you can't go up there to succeed. You're not going up there to get a new job or anything. You're up there to share the gifts you have. It's that connection that you're going for."
As a result of his many "interests," Danza says he's had to become the "jack of all trades and master of none," but that he enjoys his multifaceted career, adding, "it must be the Italian fantasy: the tux, a mic, and the stage." He says a lot of his career has been modeled after the Rat Pack, who would "shoot movies during the day and then go and perform."
While he's got his eye perpetually on what's next, Danza's not against revisiting the past. He'd previously come out against a reboot of Who's the Boss?, especially following the 2019 death of Katherine Helmond (a.k.a. Mona Robinson). More recently, though, he's rethinking that, after watching the show with a family member.
"I have an 8-year-old grandson, and my son just got him a Roku," Danza says. "And so we sat there and watched Who's the Boss?, and he just fell in love with Jonathan. And it got me thinking, what show is doing this kind of stuff? So it wouldn't be such a bad thing trying to do a reboot, one that isn't lackluster."
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It's not about just the warmth of nostalgia, though. Danza believes that we've "abdicated any communal responsibility for raising kids." He does a lot to help provide proper role models, including working with an acting school. (Their tag line? "Teach kids to act, and you teach kids to act," Danza says.)
If all of that sounds like too many plates spinning at once, that's kind of Danza's bag. He dives into projects headlong, and wants to do whatever he can to entertain and engage. There's one piece of acting advice he offers students that speaks volumes about the man who went from boxer to musical theater dynamo.
"I tell students to always go up there with [the] material," he says. "You've got to know it. Learn it till it's in your bones, and you live it. I'm a bones guy."
Tony Danza is scheduled to perform on Friday, January 24, at the Highlands Church as part of the Arizona Musicfest's winter lineup. Tickets run from $34 to $79 via Musicfest.