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Tonight's the Night for Maurice Hines

The versatile performer discusses directing the biographical musical Josephine Tonight at MetroStage. logo
Maurice Hines
Maurice Hines has been one of the theater world's most versatile talents for decades, beginning with his childhood work as a dancer with brother Gregory Hines, through his Broadway performances in Eubie, Sophisticated Ladies, and Uptown, It's Hot!, for which he received a Tony Award nomination.

While Hines continues to perform in both theaters and nightclubs, he has also turned his efforts in recent years to directing. Currently, he's helming a new production of Sherman Yellen and Wally Harper's Josephine Tonight, a biographical musical about stage sensation Josephine Baker, at MetroStage in Alexandria, Virginia through mid-March. TheaterMania recently spoke with Hines about the show and his own personal connection to Baker.

THEATERMANIA: How did you get involved with this project?
MAURICE HINES: They called me about it awhile ago while I was doing Sophisticated Ladies at the Kennedy Center. It interested me because I am always curious about how people become who they are, rather than their lives after that, and this is especially true in the case of Josephine Baker. She was such a monumental star.

TM: When did you first became aware of her?
MH: My brother, Gregory and I worked in Paris a lot so I knew about her from there. My grandmother was a Cotton Club showgirl who knew Josephine as a young girl, so I knew a lot about her as a legend, but I didn't know about her early life. This script is a lot about that and her relationship with her mother and her first husband and how she got to her adopted home, Paris.

TM: How much of Baker as an internationally-renowned performer do we see in the show?
MH: We go through her famous Banana Dance, because that is what really put her over the top. And we see how she really didn't want to do the Banana Dance. But she does and she makes that decision that changes her life. In the very end, we show her and how she became unbelievably glamorous.

TM: Baker was known for her provocative and outlandish costumes. How was the process working with costume designer Reggie Ray?
MH: Fabulous. He knows periods. The costumes change throughout the show, going from East St. Louis in 1919 through the 1920s, and they really tell that story. That was a tremendous gift. And the headpiece in the end sequence will really take your breath away.

TM: Did you ever get to see Baker perform?
MH: I saw her in 1965 when she was on Broadway. It was a phenomenon. At the end of the show, people actually ran down from the balcony to kiss the hem of her dress. I had seen great stars, like Judy Garland and Sammy Davis Jr., but I had never seen anything like that. She had all of these dresses from Dior and Balmain. These famous designers just gave them to her because they wanted to see her in them.

TM: February is Black History month. How much of the show deals with Baker's legacy in the civil rights movement?
MH: The show really examines what was done to her and the reasons why she later became an activist. We see the reasons why. She loved being in Paris so much because of the way she was treated. So that is really the precursor of her becoming an activist.

TM: What African-American artists most influenced your career?
MH: Well, as a performer I really idolized Lena Horne, Sammy Davis Jr., Ella Fitzgerald, Harry Belafonte, and Nat King Cole. Those were my real influences as a performer. There was Louis Johnson, who did all the ballets for Dance Theatre of Harlem. Also, just being around Alvin Ailey had a tremendous influence on me as a choreographer.

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