Now in his early seventies, Hines is brimming with energy. His witty feet still propel him across the stage and up and down Tobin Ost’s clean, multi-leveled set. His voice has a wonderful smoky, Mel Tormé sound that is offhandedly expressive.
Tappin’ begins with an overture dominated by “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Don’t Have that Swing)” (Duke Ellington/Irving Mills) in which all the members of the all-female Diva Jazz Orchestra under the direction of the extraordinary Sherrie Maricle get a chance to show off in solos.
Hines enters as the baby photos of him and Gregory appear on panels that slid in and out. There is his mom, his dad and then a series of photos of all the many celebrities who inspired him and with whom he has appeared, beginning with Joe Williams, whose singing with the Count Basie Band (“Every Day I Have the Blues” by Aaron, Milton & Marion Sparks) remain in his mind.
After he and Gregory were discovered in Klein’s basement as cute young kids, they had a short-lived catalog modeling career that led to lessons with the legendary Henry LeTang, tap-dance teacher extraordinaire who helped the two brothers put together an act, including a soft shoe duet which Hines performs movingly with a spotlight indicating where Gregory would have been.
This training and polishing, in turn, took them to Las Vegas, sadly segregated in the 1950’s, where their careers really took off. Tallulah Bankhead took a shine to them after seeing their act at the Moulin Rouge and invited them to swim in the pool at her—whites only!—hotel. Hines’ tale of the hotel actually draining the pool after he and his kid brother used it is sad and elicits a rueful rendition of “Smile” (Chaplin).
His performing life with his brother, and subsequently his father, too—Hines, Hines and Dad—was a veritable whirlwind of success in which they met and/or worked with Ella Fitzgerald, Judy Garland, Sammy Davis, Jr., Johnny Carson, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. He told Lena Horne that he was going to “steal” her version of “Honeysuckle Rose” (Fats Waller/Andy Razaf) which he sings, accompanied only by Amy Shook on bass—a slyly sexy version of Horne’s big hit.
They wound up appearing on the Tonight Show thirty-seven times.
His professional and personal split with Gregory led to a more than a decade-long alienation. “My Buddy” (Walter Donaldson/Gus Kahn) expresses his feelings. His other major heartbreak is the loss of his mother and his inability to get to her as she lay dying. He does, however, come to terms with Gregory in a very moving scene.
Hines is joined by two other pairs of siblings who give him a run for his money. At first, Hines puts off the young, handsome and dapper John and Leo Manzari by ribbing them with the line:
“You have no dialogue in this show.” They finally get to show off their stuff in a sensational duet.
Devin and Julia Ruth, two lovely young ladies, are also dazzling in their technique.
All of them get to dance together, weaving in and out of each other to a reprise of “It Don’t Mean a Thing.” Hines is no slouch, even up against these youngsters. He has refined his tap technique into a brilliant combination of tiny bursts of sounds connected by larger moving steps. He has a way of sliding his taps on the floor that is unique to him, making an appealing scratchy sound the others couldn’t match.
Although the all-dance finale feels a bit tacked on, it is also expected. This is after all a show about the life of a tap dancer. Tap dancing to one great song after another was what he gave us and it is great to see the past, present and future of tap on stage at the New World Stages.
The director, Jeff Calhoun, a fellow dancer/choreographer, kept Tappin’ moving along slickly and efficiently.
The life story might have been a bit less slick, the emotions deeper, but Tappin’ Thru Life is still a delight, a portrait of a show business that no longer exists and, sadly, a tale of personal loss, as well.
Maurice Hines: Tappin’ Thru Life (through February 21, 2016)
340 West 50th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-239-6280 or visit http://www.Telecharge.com
For more information, visit http://www.TappinThruLife.com
Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission