Robert Davi is coming home. The renowned character actor, who has appeared in a number of films over the past three-plus decades, including Die Hard, Showgirls and The Goonies, has not only spent the past year and a half returning to his musical roots, but will be returning to his alma mater Hofstra University to pay homage to one of his biggest influences: Frank Sinatra. Under the direction of fellow Drama Department alum and the current artistic director of the Hofstra Cultural Center Bob Spiotto, Davi will take the stage for three nights, performing “A Tribute to a Legend: Davi Sings Sinatra,” where he’ll be delving into the Great American Songbook and sharing anecdotes about his relationship with the late musical icon.
“I did my first movie with him, Contract on Cherry Street. I was a young kid and as an Italian-American growing up in New York and doing my first film with him was quite an experience. He was just amazing and he kept in touch with me over the years when I’d see him along with Jilly Rizzo and some of the other friends and entourage,” recalls Davi, over the phone from his California home. “He was just the most gracious…what you would expect. I’m going to tell some anecdotes about him and I’ll tell the audience how I had my first Jack Daniels with Frank Sinatra and how that happened. There’ll be some fun stories.”
Over the three nights that this show will be performed, audiences can expect plenty of authentic touches in Davi’s homage to the Chairman of the Board, from the 30-piece orchestra that will be accompanying him—including many musicians who played behind Sinatra at Carnegie Hall—to opening act Tom Dreesen, a veteran comedian who spent 14 years warming up audiences for Sinatra.
Unlike so many actors who end up singing as a kind of creative busman’s holiday, Davi’s musical roots run deep. Growing up in a traditional Italian household on the border of Deer Park and Dix Hills, he was exposed to an enormous amount of opera and classical music. Names like Caruso, Tito Gobbi, Franco Corelli, Mahler and Debussy pop up in conversation alongside crooners like Tony Bennett, Dean Martin and of course, Sinatra.
Davi’s love of music and strong singing style afforded him plenty of educational opportunities. “I went to Seton Hall High School in Patchogue. I won first place in the New York State School Music Association Solo Competition and in the New York State Dramatic Intepretation,” he says. “I won a lot of awards at Hofstra University and then I got a scholarship to Hofstra University from the Drama Department. They had what was called the Freshman Theater Arts Core Program and it was a marvelous department, which included a replica of The Globe Theater, which I was very attracted to.”
In coming full circle and playing Hofstra, it’s a reunion Spiotto feels was a long time coming and is even more appropriate given Davi’s love of Old Blue Eyes. “Sinatra had an impact on Robert early in his career as he will tell you specifically. There is a wonderful picture of Robert and Sinatra together that Robert carries around with him,” Spiotto explains. “It’s almost as if Robert feels almost everything he does is in tribute to the advice he’s been given by [Sinatra]. [This show] is so personal and it’s not just another person saying they like Sinatra, they know it’ll sell and then they just do a bunch of his songs. There’s a personal aspect to it which I think makes it even more crucial, unique and wonderful.”
Robert Davi will be performing “A Tribute to a Legend: Davi Sings Sinatra” from July 16 to 18 at Hofstra University’s John Cranford Adams Playhouse, Hempstead Tpke. Hempstead. For more information on tickets, please call 516-463-6644.