By Manning Harris
The Alliance Theatre has pulled a delightful treat out of its hat in the musical/dancing/revue/reminiscence called “Maurice Hines Is Tappin’ Thru Life,” running through May 4.
There are “triple threat” performers in show business who can sing, act, and dance with pizazz and precision; but the truly great ones, who have the mysterious chemistry that spells “star” are rare: Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr., Lena Horne, Judy Garland.
Usually one talent stands out: with the aforementioned, it was singing (well, Sammy Davis could do anything); with Maurice Hines, it is tap dancing.
Along with his late younger brother Gregory, he was “born in a trunk” (as they used to say of children who entered showbiz very early). It was apparent to his mother that the Hines brothers, even as small children, were special; she quickly became their greatest advocate and supporter, and “Tappin’ Thru Life” is dedicated to both his mother and brother.
Directed by Broadway’s Jeff Calhoun and written and choreographed by Mr. Hines, the show is a snappy, sentimental 90 minute journey with the star and memories of working with the most famous people (including those mentioned above) in the business. Add to that list Ella Fitzgerald and Tallulah Bankhead, among many others.
There is also an all female “Diva Jazz Orchestra” on raised platforms onstage; in addition to musicianship, these women have a witty stage presence, as you will discover. The music director is Dr. Sherrie Maricle.
Interestingly, most of the dancing occurs during the latter phase of the show, when Mr. Hines is joined by two young, dizzyingly talented tap dancing brothers named John and Leo Manzari. In a funny bit of stage business, the brothers tantalize the audience by attempting to make their entrance early, but Mr. Hines coyly teases them and the audience, saying “Shhh—don’t encourage them!” When they do come on, it’s fireworks time.
There is also a charming very young dancer named Leilani Negron (understudied by Maika Takemoto) who adds to the terpsichorean delights near the end of the show.
As for Maurice Hines himself, he alternates between reminiscences and quite a bit of singing, which he does with effortless aplomb: He sings snatches of some great songs (“I’ve Never Been in Love Before,” “Smile,” “Come Fly with Me,” “All the Way,” “Luck Be a Lady,” “It Don’t Mean a Thing” and several others). He may not sound like Sinatra (who does?), but he surprises with lovely musicianship and stage presence and charm like you wouldn’t believe. He’s a consummate entertainer.
I was especially moved by a dancing “duet” he does with his late, beloved brother; Gregory’s place is taken by a single spotlight, right beside Mr. Hines. I would like to have heard even more about their partnership, but it’s very obvious he loves and misses him. Screens are very effectively used as he talks about Gregory and their mother, to whom he gives the credit for their careers.
Maurice Hines is a svelte, fit 70-years old. But to quote Maggie from “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” he’s ‘lookin’ like 40, talkin’ like 20.” He’s an effervescent life force; he’s irresistible.
So why try? Head over to the Alliance’s Mainstage and rub shoulders with show business legends. And don’t forget those dashing Manzari brothers; I promise you they are worth the wait.
For tickets and information, visit alliancetheatre.org.