By Sarah Downs
“Maurice Hines Tappin’ Thru Life” at the New World Stages puts the ‘show’ in ‘showtime.’ In this multi-media montage, we meet seasoned performer and artist Maurice Hines, oh he of the dazzling smile and even more dazzling footwork. “ Tappin’ Thru Life” details various moments in the life of this indefatigable trouper, which plays like a Hollywood movie: two brothers are discovered at ages 5 (Maurice) and 3 (Gregory) dancing at the Apollo Theater. They go out on tour and never look back. In the course of a long career, on every kind of stage from Las Vegas to Broadway, as well as tv and film, the pair worked with major stars such as Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Duke Ellington, Lena Horne, Judy Garland, and even Tallulah Bankhead (I know! Tallulah in Vegas?!) It’s an amazing show biz story.
Hines is just astonishing. As the lights go up, he hits the stage tapping, with more energy than men half his age (a sprightly 72), right into his first number. Director Jeff Calhoun has structured the piece so the narrative consistently moves forward, but allows Maurice Hines the entertainer ample time to create a rapport with the audience, which he does in about 3 seconds. Backed by drummer and Musical Director Sherie Maricle and the delightful all female Diva Jazz Orchestra, Hines communicates effortlessly across the footlights. At times the band overpowers his singing, but you can always hear his feet.
The first half of the show is devoted to Hines reflecting on key moments in his career, including a loving tribute to brother Gregory. He sings to his family and he sings to us. The majority of the dancing takes place later in the show, revving up our anticipation for some crazy dancing. And crazy it is. Hines footwork is extraordinary, and yet he makes it look so easy. Once John and Leo Manzari join Hines onstage, the race is on. Reminiscent of the young Maurice and Gregory, The Manzari Brothers are terrific dancers – young, modern and a bit rakish. In the performance I attended, Luke Spring was the third tap specialty. At the age of 12 Spring is a tapping wunderkind whose career clearly beckons.
Hines epitomizes cool. With a sideways glance, a perfectly timed snap of the head, he sells every moment, speaking volumes with a mere shrug of a shoulder. This is a world of smooth moves and sharp suits, a flower in the lapel, the perfect slouch of a trouser leg, and fabulous wingtip shoes. T. Tyler Stumpf’s costume design captures this mood perfectly.
Set Designer Tobin Ost has created a beautiful set with a multi-level bandstand and modular screens consisting of connected rectangular shapes that are at once substantial and transmutable. The set design extends to the band’s music stands unifying the stage image with deceptive simplicity. As set pieces move smoothly on and offstage, they are at times windows, at times walls and, as projection screens for images from Mr. Hines’ life, even mirrors.
In his projection design, Darrel Maloney has assembled an evocative set of images that effectively enhance the storytelling. Lighting Designer Michael Gilliam bathes the stage in a range of vibrant pastel hues that lend the mood a sophisticated prettiness (can one say that?) alternating with dramatic moments where only one spotlight will do. Michael Hahn’s sound design keeps pace with the show, although the balance between band and singer could have been more even.
Tap dancing is about joy and you can feel his joy when Maurice Hines steps onstage. He hits every mark with high energy and style in a seamless performance that transports the audience to his world for 85 toe-tapping minutes.
Maurice Hines Tappin’ Thru Life – Written by Maurice Hines, directed by Jeff Calhoun.
WITH: The Manzari Brothers, Sherrie Maricle and the Diva Jazz Orchestra, Devin and Julia Ruth, Dario Natarelli and Luke Spring
Scenic design by Tobin Ost; costume design by T. Tyler Stumpf; lighting design by Michael Gilliam; projection design by Darrel Maloney; sound design by Michael Hahn; musical direction by Sherrie Maricle; Mr. Hines’ choreography by Maurice Hines; Manzari Brothers’ choreography by Manzari Brothers and Anthony Morigerato; production stage manager, Melanie T. Morgan; production management Juniper Street Productions Inc. ; producing artistic director.
Maurice Hines: Tappin’ Thru Life will play at New World Stages, (340 W. 50th Street) beginning Wednesday, December 23rd. Opening night is Monday, January 11th. Performances are Wednesday at 8pm, Thursday at 2pm and 8pm, Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 2pm and 8pm, Sunday at 3pm, and Monday at 8pm. Tickets, priced at $95, are available at Telecharge.com, 1-212-239-6280 Visit www.TappinThruLife.com for additional information. Running time 85 minutes.