Monday, January 11, 2016

126. Review: MAURICE HINES TAPPIN' THRU LIFE (seen January 8, 2016)

“Mostly Taptivating”
Stars range from 5-1.
Like so many others, I probably first became aware of Harlem-raised, dancer-singer Maurice Hines when he began making one of his numerous visits to Johnny Carson’s “The Tonight Show” with his musician father, also called Maurice, and younger brother, Gregory, in an act called Hines, Hines and Dad. Eventually, dad left the act to Maurice and Gregory, and, in time, the brothers each went solo, with Gregory, who died at 57 in 2003, having the more visible career, largely because of his success as a movie, TV, and Broadway star. Maurice, now an incredibly vital 72, has never stopped working, though, and MAURICE HINES TAPPIN’ THRU LIFE, his appealing revue at New World Stages, suggests he’s got lots of years left, not only in his relentlessly rat-a-tat-tatting tap shoes but as a stylish jazz singer of popular standards.

Maurice Hines. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
The show, seen over the past two years both out of town and locally (at 54 Below) as TAPPIN’ THRU LIFE: AN EVENING WITH MAURICE HINES, and other variations of that title, is a pleasant tour through selected highlights in his theatrical life, from his start as half of the tap-dancing tiny tot duo The Hines Kids (who studied with tap master Henry LeTang), to their appearances on TV variety shows, to their mid-1950s performances in Las Vegas (where their skin color prevented them from playing venues on the Strip), to other important milestones, including their co-appearance in Francis Ford Coppola’s THE COTTON CLUB, seen in a video clip. Mr. Hines's revue, crisply directed by Jeff Calhoun, breaks no new ground and is like many others of its type, but it's consistently entertaining and its star is loaded with talent and good will.
Maurice Hines. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
Lighthearted family and show biz anecdotes flow smoothly through the patter (written by Mr. Hines), sprinkled with the names of famous artists with whom the brothers worked, including Ella Fitzgerald, Pearl Bailey, Jackie Gleason, Jack Benny, Tallulah Bankhead, Lena Horne, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Judy Garland. Don’t expect any unusual stories or theatrical bitchery, however. Mr. Hines treats everyone benignly and with deep respect, even awe, and seems as thrilled and excited to have been in their company as any fervent fan. Apart from the “whites only” policies the brothers encountered in Vegas, and an allusion to his 10-year estrangement from Gregory, there’s little here to interrupt the upbeat vibes embodied in the chitchat, songs, dances, and music, the latter provided by the sensational, nine-member, all-female Diva Jazz Orchestra, led by powerful drummer Sherrie Maricle, and featuring first-rate bassist Amy Shook.
Maurice Hines. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
Tobin Ost has provided an elegant set—smartly lit by Michael Gilliam—featuring a central staircase and platforms supporting the musicians; Mondrian-like sliding panels serve as backgrounds for multiple projections, created by Darrel Maloney. We glimpse not only the brothers at various stages in their careers (with lots of early childhood shots), or the well-known faces of various stars, but those of the siblings’ parents, especially their beloved mother. The show seems as much an homage to her protective influence as to Gregory’s memory.
Maurice Hines. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
Mr. Hines may be best known as a top notch dancer, but, despite the title, he actually spends more time singing than tapping, getting the most out of his not especially memorable voice by excellent phrasing and the expressive use of gestures and classy body movements. He defines what's meant by "putting over a song." His moves are nicely abetted by his snazzy, beautifully tailored suits; T. Tyler Stumpf is the costumer, although Mr. Hines drops Armani's name at one point. The star squeezes every ounce of feeling and meaning from such familiar tunes as “I’ve Never Been in Love Before,” “Everyday I Have the Blues,” “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Your Face,” “Ballin’ the Jack,” “Smile,” “Honeysuckle Rose,” “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” “Luck Be a Lady Tonight,” “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love, Baby,” “My Buddy,” “It Don’t Mean a Thing if It Ain’t Got that Swing” (with the audience joining in the chorus), and “Too Marvelous for Words.”
Leo Manzari, Maurice Hines, John Manzari. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
While the 85-minute show is centered on Mr. Hines, it gives him some downtime by introducing additional tap acts. Appearing at each performance are the Manzari Brothers, Leo, properly leonine in dreadlocks, and the shaved-headed John. These handsome, cool-looking dudes, who are jokingly not allowed any dialogue by Mr. Hines, get a generous amount of stage time to demonstrate their remarkable skills, and they even engage with Mr. Hines in a challenge routine. Three other young phenoms appear at alternate performances: Luke Spring, Dario Natarelli, and the sisters Devin and Julia Ruth. When I went it was Mr. Spring, whom I immediately recognized as the tiny terpsichorean whiz in Broadway’s A CHRISTMAS STORY, THE MUSICAL, seen three seasons ago. To watch this smiling, diminutive 12-year-old tear up the stage with his jackhammer steps while barely breaking a sweat is itself worth the price of admission.

MAURICE HINES TAPPIN’ THRU LIFE will have you tappin’ your toes, snappin' your fingers, boppin’ your head, and singin’ along. You might want to put it on your list of New Year’s resolutions.

New World Stages
340 West Fiftieth Street, NYC
Through March 13