The stage legend is sustaining his family's legacy with the autobiographical play “Maurice Hines is Tappin’ Thru Life”
Acclaimed tap dancer Maurice Hines is currently performing in his autobiographical play, “Maurice Hines is Tappin’ Thru Life,” at the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C.
His creation, however, is a slight misnomer as there is more singing and talking than dancing in the production. Although the tap dancing does not show up until the third act of the ninety-minute show, it’s nevertheless a delight to watch the 69 year old tell his stories.
Hines smoothly gives a running commentary of how his parents inspired him and his little brother Gregory to go into show business. Discovered as young boys at a department store, the adorable brothers posed for children’s clothing ads.
He started studying tap at the age of five and his brother Gregory did so at three. Paying special tribute to their mother Alma, Hines paints an intimate portrait of how he and Gregory, who died of cancer in 2003, succeeded in show business. Family pictures mark their rise as the Hines duo is shown studying with such talent as the veteran Nicholas Brothers, whom they succeeded in the business.
To evoke the talent of the Hines brothers’ younger years, two sets of D.C.-based brothers tap dance on the stage. John (21) and Leo Manzari (18), the older pair, are veterans of “Sophisticated Ladies” and give spirited, polished dance sets. Meanwhile, local junior-high twins, Max and Sam Heimowitz, sport innocence as they tap away.
A simple, elegant stage features panels that depict a running show of faces mentioned by Hines from family pictures to Judy Garland. Although not actively dancing, Hines is always in motion going up and down steps, changing outfits and even recovering gracefully from a misstep.
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The nicest surprise in the production is that his back up band is the DIVA Jazz Orchestra, made up entirely of females who accompany him. Under the direction of Dr. Sherrie Maricle, the musicians add spirited accompaniment.
Hines is no stranger to the Arena Stage as he has portrayed Nathan Detroit in “Guys and Dolls” and starred in Duke Ellington’s “Sophisticated Ladies” and the venue has consistently offered the best in African-American themed theater. On the heels of Hines’ show is Malcolm-Jamal Warner in “Guess Who's Coming to Dinner” and then “The Tallest Tree in the Forest,” which focuses on the life of renowned singer Paul Robeson. In a city that should have a black repertory theater, it’s commendable that Arena offers these gems.
In the question and answer pages of the playbook, Hines admitted he decided to develop the production when he read a magazine piece on tap dancing that excluded any discussion of his brother Gregory, who was an acclaimed tap dancer.
Upset by this oversight, Hines wanted to tell both his brother and parents’ story of nurturing their talents. And the sophisticated dancer and choreographer wanted to pay tribute to singers like Frank Sinatra, Lena Horne, Ella Fitzgerald, and Nat King Cole that positively impacted him. So he sings their songs and tells various tales about them.
I would have preferred more dancing and less talking but it appears that was never Hines’ intention. One still leaves the theater hearing tap dancing in one’s head and a desire to get “White Nights” on DVD to see Gregory again on the screen.