A Song and Dance Musical
Directed by Jeff Calhoun
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
Maurice Hines has been tapping through his prestigious career since he and his brother Gregory – at three and five years old – were discovered at Harlem’s iconic Apollo Theater while attending a performance of the Count Basie Band with singer Joe Williams. Mr. Hines begins his highly entertaining “Maurice Hines Tappin’ Thru Life,” now playing at New World Stages, by paying tribute to Mr. Williams by singing “Everyday I Have the Blues (Aaron and M. Sparks).
Two words summarize succinctly Maurice Hines’ expansive career: gratitude and tribute. Mr. Hines is profoundly grateful for the many opportunities afforded him and his brother by their intuitive and creative parents and by the networking (intentional and serendipitous) that catapulted the brothers into success and stardom.
Through a series of delightful monologues, Mr. Hines – through tap numbers and songs – highlights the places and the individuals that provided inspiration and opportunity, including Kids and Company, the Jackie Gleason Show, Moulin Rouge the first integrated hotel in Las Vegas, the Ed Sullivan Show, the Johnny Carson Show, Broadway, and Hollywood. He also highlights his encounters with Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, and Judy Garland by singing “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” “Luck Be A Lady,” “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,” and “Ballin’ the Jack.” Accompanying Mr. Hines is the Diva Jazz Orchestra with musical direction by Sherrie Maricle.
Maurice Hines’ gratitude for his parents and for his brother permeates the ninety minutes of “Tappin’ Thru Life.” He tenderly remembers the first time he heard his parents argue and how they reconciled. This memory is accompanied by his singing “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Your Face.” This gratitude allows him to give young performers the same opportunity he had to be on stage in front of a live audience. Featured in the January 9th show were John and Leo Manzari, two brilliant tappers from Washington D.C., and the young tapper Luke Spring.
Throughout his life, Maurice Hines tackled every challenge he faced with a formidable positive energy. During his first visit to Las Vegas when a child performer, he met Talulah Bankhead at the Moulin Rouge who invited him and his family to the “all-white” hotel on the Strip. When he was told by the life guard that he could not swim in the hotel pool, Ms. Bankhead threatened not to perform. But when young Maurice entered the pool all the guests left and when he left the pool it was drained. This memory of institutionalized racism is touchingly counterpointed with the song “Smile Though Your Heart Is Breaking” (Chaplain/Turner/Parsons).
Mr. Hines is a skilled and gifted interpreter of song lyrics and provides his own thoughtful phrasing and vocal modulation – skills that have garnered him success in his solo career, on Broadway, and in film.
“Tappin’ Thru Life” is a well-crafted and well designed show directed by Jeff Calhoun that celebrates the life and career of Maurice Hines, a life that is “Too Marvelous for Words.”