Tap-Dance Master Maurice Hines Opens Up in Autobiographical Show

10 Leo Manzari, Maurice Hines, John Manzari

A thoroughly enjoyable vanity endeavor starring Maurice Hines—the less gifted older brother of tap great Gregory Hines—the autobiographical show Maurice Hines: Tappin’ Thru Life plays like an extended nightclub act, with the 72-year-old Hines singing, dancing and telling stories about his boyhood as a touring performer. 

Billed as Hines, Hines and Dad, the tap-dancing brothers and their drummer father opened for headliners in Las Vegas and appeared on television, on Broadway and in Europe during the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s. At one point in his new show, Hines pays tribute to his late brother, Gregory, by dancing a “duet” alongside an empty circle of light on the floor. Yet curiously, Hines never really explains what an esteemed place his sibling holds in tap dance history. Not only a groundbreaking performer who propelled the resurgence of tap’s popularity in the 1980s, Gregory is also revered among the tap community for his generosity and encouragement in support of the art form and other tappers. Hines makes nary a mention of this. We learn only that the brothers once had an argument and didn’t speak to each other for 10 years.

6 Maurice HinesHines’s cold personality, quiet singing style and hurried speech make him initially hard to warm up to, but as the evening progresses he grows more likable, especially as the anecdote-driven show (written by Hines) grows funnier. A deft tapper in the light, up-on-the-toes style pioneered by Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Hines also displays a knack for comedy. Most amusing is his demonstration of a tap routine he and his brother performed as children on television’s Jackie Gleason Show; full of punctuating stripper moves, it had been choreographed for them by their grandmother, a former Cotton Club showgirl.

While he exudes a wonderful feel for the give-and-take of jazz music, Hines is not a strong singer. Surprisingly for such a seasoned performer, he repeatedly makes the mistake of telling a story about one of the many famous singers he encountered as a child (Sammy Davis Jr., Judy Garland, Dean Martin, Lena Horne, Frank Sinatra) and then following it with a rendition of a song that star made famous. I’m sorry, but once you’ve put the idea of Ol’ Blue Eyes in my mind, don’t go ahead and sing “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.” All it does is make me want to rush home and listen to the Chairman of the Board’s far superior recording.

But Hines’s show is worth seeing. He is backed by the DIVA Jazz Orchestra, a fierce, all-female swing band under the baton of drummer Sherrie Maricle. Women jazz instrumentalists are such rarities that a whole combo of them makes a striking gender statement! And their music is terrific—big, brassy arrangements of exciting standards from the Great American Songbook.

Also enticing are the vintage scrapbook photos projected on the moving panels that compose the show’s simple set. They depict the brothers in performance over the years and are framed, at times, by sharp reminders that the Hineses carved out their careers during the Jim Crow era. Hines shares a horrifying story about watching a whites-only Vegas swimming pool being drained after he and Gregory, upon Tallulah Bankhead’s special invitation, had swum in it.

9 Maurice HinesIn stingy amounts and begrudging fashion, Hines shares the stage with an alternating roster of younger, emerging tap artists. The performance I saw featured a handsome duo, the Manzari Brothers (pictured in the feature photo here), and the 12-year-old phenom Luke Spring (who wowed Broadway theatergoers in A Christmas Story: The Musical). Though Hines’s exaggerated reluctance to let the young ’uns perform is supposed to be funny—and he is hilarious, telling the Manzaris, “You have no dialogue in this show,” whenever they try to speak—it feels more truthful than it probably should and unfortunately underlines the contrast between his and his brother’s tap-world legacies.

Maurice Hines: Tappin’ Thru Life is playing off Broadway at New World Stages through February 21. 

Photos: Carol Rosegg