There’s still time to catch Maurice Hines on stage at the Cleveland Play House. Along with his brother Gregory, the Hines brothers were the premier tap dancers for decades. “Tappin’ Thru Life” was written and choreographed by Maurice Hines. In it, he tells stories about his life in showbiz. He also sings nearly two dozen songs that span almost a century of theatrical history. It’s an amazing show that gives an up-close look at the man who worked with all of the greats. He tells stories of how he started taking tap lessons when he was 5 in New York City. Each story sets up a song often in surprising ways. After a story about how his parents had an argument, he sings, in the voice of his father, “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face” from “My Fair Lady.” Later he sings another song from the same show, “Get Me to the Church on Time.” Everything Hines does in the show is backed up with lovingly selected images of his family and showbiz greats projected on multiple screens.
Backing Hines is The Diva Jazz Orchestra. The eight women who comprise the group include some locals, such as Jackie Warren on piano. The leader is Sherrie Maricle on drums. When she plays a solo, you hear just how innovative someone can be on a drum set, even in 2014. With the ladies on risers, it is Hines front and center who is the focus of the show. Seventy years old, Hines appears much younger and creates a rapport with the audience that makes us in the audience feel like we’re having a conversation with him. He has true charisma. The audience enjoyed hearing him sing “Luck Be a Lady” from “Guys and Dolls” and Fats Waller’s provocative “Honeysuckle Rose.” I enjoyed hearing stories about Duke Ellington, Lena Horne, Ella Fitzgerald, Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra and Tallulah Bankhead. When was the last time you heard anyone tell a Tallulah Bankhead story?
Don’t be put off by the fact that the show is called “Tappin’ Thru Life” and there ‘s no tap dancing for well over an hour. Hines teases us by introducing John and Leo Manzari, also brothers, who are at the top of their game right now. In the last 30 minutes of the performance, the three share the stage with not too much banter about having a young versus old competition, and give us moments of dance that are electric. Hines discovered these successors to the art at a master class he was teaching. With the show’s ending, members of the audience were on their feet, and knew that they have witnessed a significant theatrical experience.
“Tappin’ Thru Life” runs through Sunday at the Allen Theatre. It is a coup for the Cleveland Play House to land this show, and a spectacular fireworks finale for its season. The show is directed by Jeff Calhoun, who has a tap dance background himself. He will be a director later this season when “Newsies” comes to town as part of the Broadway Series. With Maurice Hines still going strong, the Manzari brothers looking to the future and visionaries such as Jeff Calhoun preserving and furthering the art of tap dance, we are in for good times indeed.