Maurice Hines in Maurice Hines Is Tappin' Thru Life at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater.
Maurice Hines in Maurice Hines Is Tappin' Thru Life at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C.
(© Teresa Wood)

"If you're going to do anything in life or on stage, do it with class."

This golden nugget of advice came from Aima Hines, the mother of tap-dancing extraordinaires Maurice and Gregory Hines, when the brothers were just starting to make names for themselves in the biz — names that would soon open for the likes of Judy Garland, Tallulah Bankhead, and Ella Fitzgerald, and become regulars on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Maurice Hines is of course no stranger to Arena Stage, having appeared in productions of both Sophisticated Ladies and Guys and Dolls, and in this current production, Maurice Hines Is Tappin' Thru Life, he makes sure to remind the D.C. audience of his affection for the theater and its patrons.

Maurice Hines has taken his mother's advice to heart and in the new show. The soon-to-be 70-year-old hoofer presents a show that is elegant, heartwarming, and most of all, classy.

Throughout Tappin' Thru Life, Hines presents stories of how he and younger brother Gregory took a dancing journey to fame thanks to the efforts of his parents, breaking out into a series of vignettes about his life with photos on nine large projection screens, taking the audience down his memory lane, with a song thrown on at the end of each.

There are plenty of laughs, but also a few tears, as Hines gets personal telling how his mother demanded that he perform one night in Guys and Dolls at Arena, rather than join her in her dying days in Nevada. Being on stage is how she wanted to remember him.

Then there is a story of how while performing in Las Vegas as young boys, he and his brother were not allowed on the strip because "negroes weren't allowed back then." In fact, while opening for Bankhead, the starlet told the boys a tale of how she brought her friend, Pearl Bailey, to a hotel's pool, despite the objections, and it was drained the moment the legendary singer got out. Somewhat somberly, Hines began, "smile, though your heart is breaking…" while photos of Nevada's segregating ways were shown on the screens.

Additional standards such as "I've Never Been In Love Before," "Honeysuckle Rose," and "Come Fly With Me" demonstrate Hines' natural showmanship, a product of more than six decades on stage. Hines interacts with the crowd as well as anyone, getting them to serve as his backup vocals on "Love the One You're With" and joining in on "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got that Swing)."

Hines is backed up in his performance by a nine-piece, all-women big band, and he and director Jeff Calhoun make sure to give a moment to each of those who Hines calls "his divas." Especially memorable are a drum solo by Sherrie Maricle and some standout brass by Jennifer Krupa on trombone.

The most surprising thing about Tappin' Thru Life is that nearly an hour into the show, the legendary tap dancer had still not done any real tapping. Sure, he moved with a suave grace around the stage and had a bit of swagger in his songs, but nothing that the show's title would suggest.

The last 30 minutes would rectify that, as Hines would put on a tap-dancing clinic that reminded people why his surname is synonymous with tap greatness. In a touching nod to his brother, who passed away from cancer at the young age of 57, Hines invites Gregory's spirit down by shining a spotlight next to his, and proceeds to perform the first soft shoe the pair ever did together.

He then brings to the stage the Manzari brothers, two young and hip twenty-somethings, to trade off tap barbs, performing one amazing display after another. It's almost a new form of dance — something akin to hip-hop meets tap — and it's breathtaking.

Not done yet, Hines brings another set of brothers to the stage — this time 13-year-old identical twins Sam and Max Heimowitz, who put on their own dazzling set. The four guests then tap in a round, proving that there are plenty of great brother teams following in the footsteps that the Hines brothers helped create.

Maurice Hines Is Tappin' Thru Life offers a tender glimpse into the Hineses rise to fame and a touching tribute to a brother. It is a fun night of song, dance and, perhaps most importantly, class. Aima Hines would be proud.