Maurice Hines Tappin' Thru Life: Theater review by Raven Snook
It's impossible not to grin when swinging septuagenarian Maurice Hines gives you everything he's got in this brassy, autobiographical concert. After six decades in showbiz—the first few as a dancer alongside his late, Tony-winning younger brother, Gregory—the elder Hines has lots of starry stories about celebrities who need no last names (Judy! Frank! Sammy! Ella!). He delivers them with effervescent charm in between crooning standards like "It Don't Mean a Thing," "Luck Be a Lady" and "Smile" played by the fierce, all-female Diva Jazz Orchestra.
It's understandable that Hines, a veteran performer who's also worked as a director and choreographer, carries a torch for the good ol' days of entertainment. But in Tappin', he also passes it to a new generation by sharing the stage with up-and-coming hoofers like the breathtaking Manzari brothers and 12-year-old A Christmas Story: The Musical wunderkind, Luke Spring.
If this sounds like 90 minutes of sweet, unfocused nostalgia, it is (not that there's anything wrong with that). Adorable family photos projected onto Tobin Ost's movable set enhance the living-scrapbook vibe. While director Jeff Calhoun attempts to shape the material into a full-fledged show, there's no discernable structure, and Hines rarely drops his ain't-life-grand persona. There is one harrowing anecdote about the racism he and his brother faced as young performers in Las Vegas, and sharing a few more of those bumps might have taken Tappin' down a richer road. But Hines prefers pizzazz to introspection, and why not? For 72 years, it's gotten him Thru Life with happy feet and feelings.—Raven Snook
New World Stages (Off Broadway). Written and performed by Maurice Hines. Directed by Jeff Calhoun. Running time: 1hr 30mins. No intermission.