Maurice Hines Tappin' Thru Life
A bygone era gets a musical memoir at New World Stages.
In the world of solo shows (particularly those of the autobiographical variety), audiences have been trained to accept self-indulgence as a necessary evil. One actor, one stage, one spotlight — it seems all but inevitable for some self-congratulation to slip through, so we begrudgingly forgive the "journeying" performer through all of his sermonizing and gentle back-pats. Too bad for him that Maurice Hines has officially debunked this myth at off-Broadway's New World Stages with one of the most delightful and ego-free evenings of theater, straight from the golden age of entertainment.
Don't be mistaken, Maurice Hines Tappin' Thru Life is exactly what it sounds like: A musical revue of old-timey tunes coupled with virtuosic tap breaks, and stories from the now 72-year-old Hines' days as a child performer alongside his late brother, Gregory. But, aside from his God-given charm, ageless body, and finely tailored suits, the thing that sets this memoir apart from the rest is its intangible air of class.
Despite its eponymous title, Maurice Hines Tappin' Thru Life, directed by Jeff Calhoun, is far more a tribute to the era that molded him than it is a life-and-times of tap dancer Maurice Hines. Stories from his earliest professional jobs in 1950s Las Vegas are told with the backdrop of American segregation policies; his renditions of "Luck Be a Lady," "I've Got You Under My Skin," and "Honeysuckle Rose" (featuring extraordinary bassist Amy Shook) are homages to his iconic mentors Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., and Lena Horne; and every tap number he delivers (with the essential aid of sound designer Michael Hahn) is in loving memory of his brother, to whom he even bequeaths a second spotlight for a soft-shoe duet.
Hines takes every opportunity to subvert the structure of "one actor, one stage, one spotlight," handing over the reins to his fellow performers throughout the show. His all-female jazz band, the Diva Jazz Orchestra (endearingly referred to as "The Divas"), kicks off the program from its perch on set designer Tobin Ost's lofted two-level platform. The musicians are his costars, not his accompaniment — and even get their own solo moment, featuring a smoking-hot riff by music director Sherrie Maricle that will get every little girl begging her parents for a drum set. The Manzari Brothers (exceptional tap dancers Leo and John Manzari), meanwhile, hark back to the glory days of the Hines Brothers with their own set, followed by 12-year-old tap prodigy Luke Spring with another fancy-footed solo (Spring, the Ruth Sisters, and Dario Natarelli alternate performances).
Without pomp or circumstance, Hines silently becomes the mentor that Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Lena Horne, and other past greats were for him, lovingly passing the torch to the next generation of artists. In Hines' own words, "My mother would always say, ‘Whatever you do onstage and in life, always do it with class.'" "Class" as a philosophy of entertainment may be a relic of the past, but thanks to Hines, it's making a comeback in New York City.