Photos by Carol Rosegg
By Julia Polinsky
Charming, elegant, confident, delightful, and engaging: pick an
adjective that basically says, “How Cool Was THAT,” and it’ll apply to Maurice
Hines in Tappin’ Thru Life. At 72, you’d think he could be content to
sit back and enjoy the fruits of a long and stellar career. You’d be wrong.
A cross between an anthology of wonderful songs and an
autobiography on stage, Maurice Hines, with director Jeff Calhoun, has crafted Tappin’
Thru Life, a feel-good evening of song and dance. The nattily-dressed Hines
has a long history as a performer, and frames his show with his memories, and
songs from the Great American Songbook to illustrate them.
The tale of his life rambles from walking up the street in Harlem
as a very little boy, with his brother Gregory (dressed to the nines by stylish
mother in clothes from Klein’s basement), to auditions, to the Apollo, to TV,
About Vegas: that’s where the memories show ugliness. Vegas, back
in the day, was a segregated city, and the tales involving Hines, his brother,
and the pool at a white-only hotel (Tallulah insisted they be allowed to swim
in the pool, after which it was drained by management) gave Hines the chance to
whip the audience around his little finger. Not a sound rose from the packed
house, as the story moved from name dropping to shocking reality. Beautifully
done; Hines is a master at capturing an audience, good times and bad.
Over the years, Hines encountered pretty much every startlingly
famous name in 20th century popular music. Tappin’ Thru Life
can feel like an endless evening of name dropping, but really, when your
experience ranges from dancing for Tallulah Bankhead to Francis Ford Coppola,
never mind Judy, Frank, Lena, Ella, Sammy, and other one-name stars, well, go
ahead. Drop those names.
Hines speaks lovingly of his family, sings to them, dances for
them. Projections, by Darrel Maloney, at the sides of the stage show photos of
the stars he mentions, the venues where he performed, all the memories, but
often, mom and dad, at different times in their lives. His brother Gregory
comes up a lot, too, and if Hines glosses over the 10 year rift between them,
who can blame him? He honors his brother by dancing a lovely soft shoe duet,
with Gregory is present as a spotlight, some warmth, a smile.
The Manzari Brothers
He evokes a world that seems gone, and yet, the house was filled
with people of all ages. Also, Hines seems to be passing the torch of Tap Dance
Sibling Act on to more recent generations. The Manzari Brothers, a pair of
appealing young’uns, play charmingly with the star, and dance their own version
of the tap-dance brother act that Hines so memorably brings to the stage, here.
Sisters Devin and Julia Ruth, neither of whom is out of her teens, bring their
own take on dance. At one point, the dance-off among all these deliciously
talented kids makes the future of tap look bright.
The remarkable jazz band that backs him up, Sherrie Marcie and the
Diva Jazz Orchestra, do a kickass job of being a singer/dancer’s dream
accompaniment. Do yourself a favor and stay for the band’s final number, after
the show is, I suppose, technically over, and the dancers are gone. They are a
smashing, hot, swinging jazz ensemble, well worth staying for. Hard to stay
still, while they’re working it out. You’ll want to dance. Who knows? You may
take up tap dancing. Tappin’ Thru Life can make you feel like that.
Maurice Hines: Tappin’ Thru Life
90 minutes, no intermission
New World Stages, 340 W. 50th St.
M,W, Th, F, Sa 8pm; W, Th 2pm; Su, 3pm