“Maurice Hines Tappin’ Thru Life” is back! That delicious jazz- and tap-filled musical treat that enjoyed a limited Broadway run earlier this year is coming to Lincoln Center’s Damrosch Park July 28, for one night only. There folks will be able to enjoy, for free, a show that features veteran showman Maurice Hines, the 15-piece, all-female Diva Jazz Orchestra and other impressive tap dancers, including brothers John and Leo Manzari, a rhythmic partnership reminiscent of Maurice and his brother, the late, great Gregory Hines.
On Broadway, “Maurice Hines Tappin’ Thru Life” dazzled audiences, who responded with standing ovations, and inspired critics, who wrote love letters instead of reviews. The New York Times declared Hines “a singing, dancing showman extraordinaire” and called the “brilliantly constructed variety-show-style entertainment” simply “blistering hot.” Another praised the veteran showman, proclaiming, “Few entertainers today can work an audience as well as Maurice Hines.” Well, what did they expect? The 72-year-old exudes energy, oozes charm and tells a slew of poignant and funny personal stories without skipping a beat, while tapping out a rash of rapid-fire rhythms with effortless ease. After all, he’s been doing this both with his brother and solo for some 65 years or so.
“I’m very flattered that the Lincoln Center folks came and saw ‘Tappin’ Thru Life,’ at New World Stages, and invited me to bring the entire show to Damrosch Park,” Hines said during a recent interview. “The timing is perfect for this one-night-only performance since I’m in the process of preparing a multicity tour that kicks off in a few weeks in Philly.
“Tappin’ Thru Life” consists of stories Hines tells with style and grace, song and dance, a sense of humor and a bit of history, augmented with family photos and a truckload of pizzazz. In that raspy voice and with a tongue-in-cheek delivery that lets you in on the fun, Hines shares vivid memories of the larger-than-life legends he and Gregory and their father and mother were privileged to know, work with, learn from and call friends. You know that list is long and impressive because The Hines Kids, as the bothers were known, started performing when they were 3 and 5 years old. They were compared with another duo of dancing siblings, the Nicholas Brothers.
There’s the time legendary theater, film and television tap dancer, choreographer and teacher Henry LeTang gave the brothers his seal of approval after they stole the show during his own dance class. LeTang immediately told their mother, “They’ve got it.” There’s the time the youngsters were performing in Las Vegas and took a dip in the hotel’s “Whites Only” pool, only to see maintenance drain it afterwards as friend and actress Tallulah Bankhead fumed and their mother sought to shield them from the despicable display of racism by saying the hotel liked to clean the pool from time to time. Although it’s not in the show, Hines mentioned another story about the making of the movie musical, Francis Ford Coppola’s “Cotton Club,” which includes a show-stopping number with his brother. He bemoaned the fact that some 22 numbers and a slew of brilliant Black performers were left on the cutting room floor.
But despite the unpleasant memories, he adds, “We were very lucky. We came along at the right time in our careers to meet the greats. I love the idea of this show because it’s also a tribute to my mother and father and my brother Gregory. That’s really important to me.” Hines says one of the reasons he did the show in the first place is because while reading an article about tap in Dance Magazine he noticed there was no mention of his brother, Gregory. “I was so shocked. I read it again because I knew there must be a mistake. Well, there wasn’t. I couldn’t believe it.” “Tappin’ Thru Life” is not only a labor of love, it is also designed to protect a cultural legacy.
It’s also a glimpse of what Hines says made certain performers great. He ticked off a list of folks he mentions in the show. “Lena Horne and Nat King Cole were my idols, along with Ella Fitzgerald and Judy Garland. Lena became a great friend. We met Frank Sinatra through Sammy Davis Jr., and we worked with him and Harry Belafonte. Nat King Cole was my idol. He was so effortless. When you saw Sammy Davis Jr. at his peak at the Apollo Theater, he had this sort of magic. I’m also a fan of Nina Simone. I just did a tribute for Chita Rivera. She’s another great one.
“My father used to say, ‘When you see the greats, the real greats, you know it. No one has to tell you they’re great.’ Years ago, I went to this fabulous party. There were all these famous people there. Then Eartha Kitt walked into the room and you didn’t see anybody else. Gregory and I were very grateful for what we learned from these fantastic performers. They taught us so much. Lena once told us the only thing that matters is the audience. Problems? You don’t have any problems, Lena said. Get on stage and do your show.” Clearly, that advice has served Hines well for decades.
Laughing about his longevity, Hines said, “Debbie Allen and I were just talking about this the other day. Ellen Degeneres said there’s a line in the movie ‘Finding Nemo’ that she did the voice over for, where a big fish asks a little fish how he managed to survive in water with all the predators and everything, and the little fish says, ‘I just keep swimming.’ Debbie said, ‘Maurice, that’s what we do. We just keep swimming.’”