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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
TAPPIN’ THRU LIFE
at New World Stages

MAGIC FEET
By BERNARD CARRAGHER

  Leo Manzari, Maurice Hines and John Manzari/ Ph: Carol Rosegg

Winter has brought Maurice Hines’ grand Tappin’ Thru Life to the New World Stages on 50th Street between Eight and Ninth Avenues. It’s a unique autobiographical look at his family and his life on stage. At its core, it is a tribute to his brother and longtime dancing partner, Gregory, who was three years his junior and died in 2003 at age 57. The show also features kudos to his mentor mom, Alma, a constant in the boys’ lives who got them tappin’ as kids; and his dad, Maurice Sr., who joined them onstage as a drummer in the 60s when their act was called “Hines, Hines, and Dad.”
 
Today, at 72, Hines is slim, lithe and amiable. His beard is speckled with gray, but his talent is still in peak form. The elegant costumes are by T. Tyler Stumpf, the handsome décor by Tobin Ost, lit by Michael Gilliam. When we first see Hines he is slowly tappin’ down the set’s white steps in his signature cream-colored dancing shoes with their black tips. He moves like the fog in that Carl Sandburg poem "On Little Cat Feet," until he suddenly lands center stage and lets loose with that energetic bounce and clocked rhythm that has always ruled his life. He gets nice musical support from a marvelous nine-member, all-female band the Diva Jazz Orchestra.
 
Like those dance masters of yore before Maurice – Bill Bojangles Robinson, The Nicholas Brothers, Charles Honi Coles and his brother Gregory – he has developed an individual dancing style that touches and wows the audience. Maurice threads his tales between dance and musical numbers from the past. One moment, he’s hauntingly singing “Every Day I Have the Blues,” echoing Joe Williams, which he heard as a kid at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. He then gives a stirring rendition of Frank Loesser’s "Luck Be a Lady Tonight" from Guys and Dolls, a show with which he toured across the United States.
 
The first big break for the Hines Brothers came in the 1950s when they were booked on TV’s Jackie Gleason Show. Their grandmother, who was a showgirl at the Cotton Club and offstage dated Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway, choreographed the brothers’ routine slickly, and it must have been the most grown-up (read: sophisticated) tap act by youngsters on the planet. The Hines Brothers caught Johnny Carson’s attention and performed on his show dozens of times. They were booked as opening gigs for all the superstars of the day – Judy Garland, Ella Fitzgerald, Sammy Davis Jr, and Frank Sinatra.
 
Touring, they also got a taste of the prejudice in the air in the early 50s in the United States. Flying into Vegas, they looked down on the brightly lit strip with one dazzling hotel after another, and they were mesmerized. Soon, they found out they wouldn’t be staying on the strip, but rather a few miles away at the newly built, integrated Moulin Rouge Hotel. Still, celebs came to see them, and the actress Tallulah Bankhead invited them to her hotel on the strip for lunch and a swim. When Maurice went into the pool, Tallulah was told by a hotel staffer that it was not allowed. She said that if the kids couldn’t use the pool, she wouldn’t do her show that night. The Hines Brothers got to swim in the pool. When they left the area, the pool was drained. This Hines story silenced the audience. Then Maurice sings an a capella rendition of "Smile." Ten years later, Vegas was thoroughly integrated, and he shows a magazine cover of all the black entertainers performing on the strip hotels, including the Hines Brothers.
 
When Hines needs to catch his breath, or probably change his costume, he allows some new tappers who he calls “the future” to take over. He and his excellent director of the evening, Jeff Calhoun, searched the country for new dancers and found the Manzari Brothers and the Ruth Sisters (Devin and Julia), who show us some new, jazzy steps and moves. One of Hines' future dreams is to open a dance center in Harlem called the Gregory and Maurice School of Tap.
 
Show business wasn’t all good times for the Hines Brothers. There was a dark period of 10 years when Maurice and Gregory didn’t speak. They went their separate ways. Gregory went on to have leading roles in movies and on Broadway with Tony nominations and a Tony Award for Jelly’s Last Jam. Maurice toured in shows and started a dance school with Mercedes Ellington. Maurice says, “It was not a career thing, it was a personal thing, and we promised our mother we would never discuss it.” They finally made up after that decade, and the duo went on to dance together again in the 1984 Cotton Club movie by Francis Ford Coppola. On film you can see they both loved dancing together again.
 
What is striking about Tappin’ Thru Life is the sincerity with which Hines fills the evening. His performance and dancing have never been better. To him, every night is opening night. Carrying on his family’s tradition is fun for him. He’s having a good time and so does the audience.
 
After his grandmother retired from dancing at the Cotton Club, she found religion. Recently, a reporter asked Maurice if he was religious. He answered, “I am. In fact, I go to St. Patrick’s Cathedral twice a week to thank God for the life I have been able to lead."

 


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