NEW YORK — When you're standing around in Times Square trying to decide which Broadway show to see, don't be surprised if you get a visit from Tony Danza.
The "Taxi" and "Who's the Boss?" star isn't exactly shy about sharing the news that he's starring in the new Broadway musical "Honeymoon in Vegas" and nudging folks to his theater.
"I just walk up," Danza says. "I just convince people. I say, 'Listen what are you going to do? You come to New York and you see a Disney thing? C'mon! What, are you crazy?'"
The pitch often works, mostly thanks to Danza's sheer boyish charm, impish sense of humor (he has a fondness for saying "Holy mackerel!") and that honking Brooklyn accent.
Rob McClure, Danza's co-star, has seen the Danza Effect firsthand. He's been with the wiry former boxer when he tries to turn TV fans into stage ones.
"It doesn't matter where he is. He does it on the subway. He does it at the gym. He is genuinely that excited about what he's doing," says McClure.
"He just sees a bunch of people standing around deciding what show to see, so of course, he's going to go, 'Let me tell you what show to see: The one I'm most excited about.' It's really not from a selling point of view. It's from a pride point of view."
"Honeymoon in Vegas," adapted from a 1992 movie starring James Caan, Nicolas Cage and Sarah Jessica Parker, has music by Tony Award winner Jason Robert Brown and tells the story of a reluctant groom whose bride-to-be is courted by a Vegas wiseguy, played by Danza.
Danza, whose Broadway credits include "The Iceman Cometh" and Arthur Miller's "A View from the Bridge," was initially resistant to another film-to-stage adaptation until Brown came to visit four years ago and played him one of the songs, "Out of the Sun."
"It was like, Holy mackerel! I get to sing that? I'm in!" says Danza. "It's the best score I've heard since 'West Side Story.'"
Danza has thrown himself into all aspects of the show, hitting the gym daily to stay fit, strengthening his voice and selling the musical wherever he can. Appear in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade? Sure. Host an event celebrating Kids Night on Broadway? Of course. Perform his cabaret act to help break the Guinness World Record for the longest variety show ever? Naturally.
Danza even recently found himself singing Christmas songs in a Brooks Brothers store as part of the musical's promotion. "People are buying ties and I'm singing, 'Chestnuts roasting on an open fire.' People are like, 'What's going on?'" he recalls with a laugh.
McClure says Danza is one of the first members of the company to show up for work each day and never fails to practice his tap routine before the audience arrives. McClure says he looks out for his co-stars' health, too, substituting McClure's breakfast of microwaved burritos with Danza's homemade chicken soup.
And unlike other stars, Danza doesn't retreat to his dressing room when he's not onstage. McClure says he usually sees his co-star standing in the wings, watching the show and laughing with the audience.
"This is a man who's busting his ass every day to give people their money's worth. He loves it," says McClure. "What a great leading energy to have in the building for everybody."
That energy very likely might not have made it here. Danza is 63 now with a pair of newly installed knees, but he looks as fit as a middleweight contender in his late 40s. You'd hardly know a 1994 skiing accident almost killed him.
He woke on a respirator and, while recuperating in his Malibu home, asked himself a question: "What do I want to do with the rest of this thing that I almost didn't have?' I just decided, 'I'm going to be a song-and-dance man.'"
So Danza put together an act and took it across the nation. When his daughter recently moved to New York to attend school, Danza — freshly divorced and ready for a new challenge — followed, selling his beach house and intending to start over as a Broadway baby.
"This is my chance to do all things that I've been saying, 'Yeah, I can do that,'" he says. "The only time I'm having any fun is when I'm onstage."