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15, Oct 2015

Maurice Hines tap dancing thru life

by Steve Cohen
for The Cultural Critic

Tappin′ Thru Life with Maurice Hines. Delaware Theatre, 2015.


One of the top tap-dancers of his generation, Maurice Hines takes the audience on a nostalgic trip with his autobiographical production. His personality is a show in itself, warm and communicative. He exchanges intimate conversation with people in the front rows, makes himself virtually a family friend and leaves us wanting more. This can be taken as a compliment — and also as constructive criticism.

Hines shows photos from his past, sings and dances quite well, and tells stories about his career. A large percentage of the talk centers on his parents and on his upbringing.

He performed about a dozen songs, all of them old favorites, animating the tunes with flurries of agile tapping and extensive reliance on gentle, expressive dancing.

This would be an even richer experience if Hines discussed his adult life more. There were lots of anecdotes about his childhood, and about his first meetings with stars like Lena Horne, Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. But we hear little about his transition from child star to an adult career, or his differences with his brother.

At one moment, Maurice twirled next to a spotlight meant to represent his brother and asked:  “Can you see him? Cause I can see him.”

I saw Gregory and Maurice perform (in fact, I saw them when quite young as part of the trio Hines, Hines & Dad) but I did not know that the brothers quarreled. My guess is that most of the audience was similarly in the dark. In this show, Maurice mentions it briefly, with no details. A fuller explanation would have added to the drama of the presentation. (Gregory died of cancer in 2003 at age 57.)

One of the most touching moments came when Maurice related the story of the family′s first appearance in Las Vegas. They were barred from the big hotels on the Strip because of their color and had to perform at a nightery across town. A white headliner from the Strip invited the boys to swim at her hotel and when Maurice went into the water all the white guests climbed out. Worse yet, when Maurice got out, the hotel drained the pool. Such was life in the 1950s!

Hines performed in front of the Diva Jazz Orchestra, a nine-piece all-female swing band. They showcased some great individual solos, and women in the band acted as foils during some of Hines′s stories.

He brought on stage the tap-dancing brothers John and Leo Manzari, ages 21 and 23, who provided high-energy breaks. Hines also showcased nine-year-old Jake Sweeney from Wilmington in a brief but dazzling tap dance.

The question arises: Can this show make it on Broadway? Jeff Calhoun′s direction is flashy and the package packs an emotional impact, but it needs more. Not necessarily a longer running time, but more depth of content from Hines.

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