Intended as a tribute to his brother, Gregory, with whom Maurice Hines performed from the age of five – you read that correctly – until his untimely death in 2003, Tappin’ Through Life is a musical story of the boys’ career. Against projected archival photos (Darrel Maloney) we’re regaled with an entertaining and loving history that illuminates not only Maurice’s familial relationships but the era in which he and Gregory thrived. It’s completely captivating. The artist is as good a raconteur as he is a writer.
Maurice and Greg were so adorable, they turned heads on the street and modeled for Klein’s. Judging by photos, this may have been in part because of the way their stylish mom dressed her sons, often in cute matching outfits. The epitome of elegance at 72 (not just for his appearance), Hines was wearing a custom tail suit at six. Show costumes tonight are credited to Tyler Stumpf who should have his own clothing line.
Unlike other kids who erratically jumped around to music, the boys, their mother noted, were right on the beat. She took them to audition as a novelty opening at The Apollo Theater. Here, we’re treated to Joe Williams’ “Everybody’s Got the Blues” with swinging Sherrie Maricle and The Diva Jazz Orchestra singing backup. Horn players stand, shifting from side to side in sync like classic big bands. The vocalist delivers every number like he means it with authority, ease, and rhythmic phrasing- aware of emotion as well as pending physical dance. Emphases and repetition are jazz oriented but never gratuitous.
Mrs. Hines was paramount in getting Maurice and Greg started. The theater warms to every reference. Describing the rare incident of watching his parents argue which culminated in his father’s exit, Maurice conjures her calmly mashing potatoes until his father returned. “He put his hand out and she took it.” They danced in the kitchen. “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Your Face” he sings representing Hines Senior, gazing at his parent’s images. Later, he returns to them with an understated version of “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” for which any girl would fall.
The Hines Kids performed “Ballin’ The Jack.” You remember: First you put your two knees close up tight/Then you sway ’em to the left and then you sway ’em to the right… on a talent show called Kids and Company. Nascent “choreography” is evocative. (He remembers!) A booking on The Jack Benny Show followed. This provoked their mother to send her sons to see Grannie (a former Ziegfeld Show Girl) for new steps.
Next, they flew to Las Vegas for what the boys believed was an appearance “on the strip.” In fact, the strip was segregated. Upset to be driving away from bright lights, they discovered their gig was at Moulin Rouge, the first integrated hotel in town. After clubs closed on the “right” side of the tracks, stars like Harry Belafonte, Louis Armstrong, Sammy Davis Jr., and Tallulah Bankhead would come see the popular revue Hot, Brown and Beige.
Bankhead invited them to her hotel pool. Excited, Maurice, Greg, and their mom accepted, but were unceremoniously informed by the lifeguard that they couldn’t go in the water. Bankhead threatened not to perform that night and the boys were permitted to joyfully splash around. They hardly noticed the pool grow empty. What was impossible to miss was its being drained after they got out.
Apparently the young Hines Brothers had next to no experience with bigotry in New York. Projections at this point are shots of the duo dancing interspersed with then-current signs: Colored Waiting Room, Colored Served in Rear, We cater to whites only…Hines sings Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile,” at first acapella, then, accompanied by musicians. The effect is low key but riveting. He seems determined to convince himself.
“Honeysuckle Rose,” as sung by Hines’ friend Lena Horne in tandem with bassist George Duvivier, arrives to the accompaniment of uber-talented musician, Amy Shook. It’s superb. And oh so cool. Vocal is again, iconoclastic-minimal, start/stop, casual, and full of feeling. Talking about Greg leads Maurice to a soft shoe of “My Buddy.” During the number his absent partner is portrayed by a spotlight as Maricle creates taps employing drumsticks on rims. It works wonderfully. Recently Tommy Tune declared his most important tap lesson was nonchalance. Hines has it in spades.
We hear about The Johnny Carson Show (they were on 37 times before Carson went West), Hines, Hines, and Dad (a next iteration), opening for Ella Fitzgerald ON the strip, meeting Sammy Davis Jr., Frank Sinatra, and Dean Martin. A very Nelson Riddle-like arrangement of “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” replete with big ending is tailed by a swing “Luck Be A Lady.” Hines shakes the dice over his right shoulder, unfurls his arm to release as his knee comes reflexively up then down into a few expressive, lower body moves. It’s palpable.
Up till now, we’ve seen just a few dance riffs – the man is eminently graceful – but little full tap except a tease until dancers John and Leo Manzari play at coming onstage before they’re due. The three briefly compete. When one brother tries to speak, he’s admonished with the fact they “have no dialogue in this show.” In fact, Maurice Hines, like Greg, is immensely generous with the next generation.
The Manzari Brothers from Washington, DC first dance with him and then on their own. (Original choreography.) They’re big, energetic, and powerful as jackhammers. Feet come down fast and synchronized. Effort is expended. Leo (longer hair) frowns with concentration, yet glances out for approval. John seems more interior with his focus. There’s no question they’re amazing.
Leo Manzari, Maurice Hines, John Manzari
THEN we watch skinny, 17 year-old Dario Natarelli, an entirely different kind of tapper. His rather unique choreography favors fully extended then rescinded arms and legs while the body progresses elsewhere. Natarelli repeatedly looks as if he’s on the verge of tipping over yet doesn’t, heightening attention. There’s wildness and intensity to the young man. I imagine a flexing race horse.
Maurice dances, of course. It’s astonishing to me how someone can be so loose- limbed above and so tightly timed below. The artist has feet like a hummingbird’s wings, one can barely distinguish particular movement. Like Fred Astaire, he makes both vocals and dancing look easy. Had entertainment been less color conscious, had he been born a little earlier, Maurice Hines, like Astaire, might’ve been asked to introduce some of our Great American Songbook.
“You’re Just Too Marvelous” is directed at Greg (Maurice refers to his brother as Greg), his mother, and then, his audience. The show is enchanting.
A musical Duke Ellington tribute part way through allows Hines to go off stage briefly, breathe, drink some water, and change outfits. In the course of this medley, orchestra leader Sherry Maricle executes a long drum solo that makes me think of Buddy Rich. Yeah, that strong, clean, precise, and fresh. Wowza. Her group is very fine.
Note to Sound Designer Michael Hahn, take it down please! Portions of vocals are buried.
Performance Photos by Carol Rosegg
Opening: Maurice Hines
Maurice Hines Tappin’ Through Life
Written and Performed by Maurice Hines
Directed by Jeff Calhoun
Introducing The Manzari Brothers
And Dario Natarelli
With Sherrie Maricle and The Diva Jazz Orchestra
New World Stages
340 West 50th Street