It’s Friday night on Broadway, 6:45 p.m. The backstage area at the Nederlander Theatre, where Jason Robert Brown and Andrew Bergman’s new musical, Honeymoon in Vegas, has been running since November, is buzzing as stagehands ready the set and actors warm up before their 8 p.m. curtain.
We’re in Tony Danza’s dressing room, a surprisingly cramped space off stage right filled to the brim with framed photos, cards from well-wishers, and posters from shows past.
On a daybed lies a ukulele, which Danza is teaching himself how to play, and which he eagerly strums for guests. He’s wearing a sweat suit from his alma mater, the University of Dubuque, where he received a bachelor’s degree in history, and is sitting in front of his makeup mirror eating dinner. Next to the uke on the sofa is Rob McClure, Danza’s costar and great pal, a Tony nominee for his performance in the title role of the musical Chaplin.
Danza and McClure didn’t know each other when they first started performing in Honeymoon in Vegas during its 2013 run at New Jersey’s Paper Mill Playhouse. (“I knew who Tony Danza was, but he didn’t know me,” McClure says with a laugh.) However, even though they’re playing adversaries — McClure is Jack Singer, a New York neurotic who makes an impulsive decision to elope to Las Vegas with his fiancée, Betsy Nolan (Brynn O’Malley), and Danza is Tommy Korman, the gambler who sees Jack as an easy mark and takes him for all he’s worth during an ill-fated poker game — they became fast friends, the kind of bros who have each other’s backs and can finish each other’s sentences. The interview quickly turned into a conversation about life, luck, and the pursuit of happiness. And they wouldn’t have it any other way.
Since you two didn’t know each other before you started doing the show, what was your first meeting like?
Rob McClure: I remember I came in and I auditioned and Tony read the scenes with me. There was no accompanist in the room and he just started singing “Come to an Agreement” [their first number together] and I loved it so much. I finished the last song, and Tony goes behind the table and is eating a sandwich. They all have that moment where they look at each other and it’s like, “Do we need anything else from him?” Tony put down his sandwich and gave me the A-OK sign. I remember going home and calling my mother [to tell her about it].
Tony Danza: I knew [he had the part] when he came in. It was like “Fuhgeddit, this guy is the guy. We gotta have him.” Of course, he had another job. He had [the Broadway musical] Chaplin. So I put the kaboykes on that.
Rob: “Kaboykes.” That’s the technical term.
Rob: It’s amazing how fate leads you to the place you’re supposed to be. They’re all fantastic experiences, but I’m so lucky to be here doing this now.
Tony, there are interviews where you talk about having to keep Rob healthy and cooking for him. Is that true?
Rob: He cooks for me all the time.
Tony: Well, I gotta take care of this boy.
Rob: I’ll show up to the theatre with McDonald’s chicken nuggets —
Rob: He’ll make that noise and go, “What are you eating that garbage for?”
Tony: And it’s not like I don’t eat. I eat.
Rob: He’s also jacked. He can throw down.
Tony: For an old guy.
Tony: Listen, I’ve got a big birthday coming up. I don’t even want to talk about it. Something to do with Medicare.
Does doing musicals make you feel younger?
Tony: I just feel great. Everything is better.
Rob: Do you see how he can’t talk without smiling right now?
Tony: It’s just what I want to do. One of the things about fame is that you can’t be totally un-self-conscious. You always think somebody’s looking at you. It’s a weird conditioning. When you’re out there [on stage], that doesn’t happen. It’s wonderful. You’re just in the world of the play. And then every once in a while, a moment of life happens out there, and it just electrifies me.
As poker players in real life as well as onstage, what’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to you during a poker game?
Tony: With me, it’s a fight. Somebody didn’t like something and it became giddy gunsmoke.
Rob: I helped create this variety show for my friends the Jonas Brothers. Long story short . . .
Tony: Don’t drop names. My friend Bobby De Niro told me that. [Laughs.]
Rob: Long story short, we went down to Atlantic City to do this variety show, and I wanted to show off but instead lost a bunch of money. I made it up the next night at blackjack, though.
Tony: Prove it.
Rob: I got pictures. I left with an orange chip. That’s a thousand.
David Gordon is a staff reporter and photographer at TheaterMania.com.