It doesn’t take a meteorologist to notice the drastic temperature fluctuations New Yorkers have been experiencing this winter, but those who find themselves at midtown’s New World Stages should brace themselves for a scorching heat wave—at least for as long as Maurice Hines is occupying residency.
Maurice Hines Tappin’ Thru Life, is, as its’ leading man sings in his autobiographical journey, “much too marvelous for words,” but since it is my job as a critic to offer analysis, my only words are ones of praise, awe, and admiration.
Hines and his late, younger brother, Gregory were tap prodigies whose illustrious careers grabbed the attention of Johnny Carson (who put them on “The Tonight Show” more than 30 times.) From there, they toured in New York, Europe, and Las Vegas, rubbing elbows and in some cases, performing, with legendary performers including Lena Horne, Frank Sinatra, Tallulah Bankhead, and Judy Garland.
The Off Broadway show, expertly directed by Jeff Calhoun, flows effortlessly from one fascinating showbiz tale to the next. In true song and dance fashion, his stories are interspersed with fine standards, each accompanied by the impressive Diva jazz orchestra. As soon as this 15-piece ensemble begins to wail, the “wow” factor skyrockets—and it only increases throughout the next 90 minutes.
With charming photos projected on Tobin Ost’s smartly designed panels, Hines reminisces about his career and more personally, his family. Hines’ father joined the brother’s act for a short time where they billed themselves as Hines, Hines, and Dad. His mother provided constant support and encouragement and often held down three simultaneous jobs to support the family. He also admits to a painful argument he had with his younger brother that caused them to cease communication for ten years. Fortunately, reconciliation followed. His tales are sentimental and heartfelt without being maudlin and he makes it a point to acknowledge, but not steep in his life’s disappointments.
At 72, Hines has more energy in his tapping feet than many half his age have in their entire bodies. He is an old-school showman who puts a thousand percent into his performance. He is also a gracious personality, as evidenced by his willingness to yield to the next generation of tap dancers. Hines introduces us to John and Leo Manzari, a pair of twenty-something brothers from D.C., and Devin and Julia Ruth, sisters who are carrying on the tap legacy. Hines exits and gives the quartet full reign of the boards before later joining them in a crowd pleasing dance number. It is one of the few times he leaves the stage—a testament to his unflagging vigor.
Younger generations will rise to the occasion and new talent will emerge, but the likes of Hines and his legacy are rare. Thankfully, he is baring his soul and talents in a flashy show that impresses and dazzles like good old fashioned entertainment should.
Maurice Hines Tappin’ Thru Life
New World Stages
340 West 50th Street, NYC
Through March 13
Ryan Leeds is a freelance theater journalist who lives in Manhattan. He is the Chief Theater Critic for Manhattan Digest and a frequent contributor to Dramatics Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @Ry_Runner or on Facebook.