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Tappin' Thru Life

Maurice Hines. Leo and John Manzari
Maurice Hines. Leo and John Manzari

A New Song & Dance Musical
New World Stages, Stage 1
340 W. 50th Street
Previews: Dec. 23, 2015. Opening: Jan. 11, 2016; Closing Mar. 13, 2016
Author/Choreographer: Maurice Hines, with Leo and John Manzari
Directed by Jeff Calhoun
90 minutes. No intermission
Review by Elizabeth Ahlfors

Wake up! Sherrie Maricle’s nine-piece Diva Jazz Orchestra ignites the party showcasing legendary dancer, Maurice Hines, who throws himself into the feel-good rhythms of the 40’s and ‘50’s in "Tapp'in’ Thru Life." Tappin's back in town with fingers snapping, shoulders shaking, hips swaying. Riding on the energy of drummer Sherrie Maricle and her exceptional divas, Hines presents an ebullient program of songs and stories of his life and career.

Hines appears at off-Broadway's New World Stages, dapper in black jacket and white slacks, ready for graceful action and opening with a breezy, "I've Never Been in Love Before." Directed by Jeff Calhoun, Hines' show is a love letter to the era of great popular tunes as witnessed through the eyes of a couple of brothers from Harlem with a flair for dancing, Maurice and the late Gregory Hines. Maurice's love for, and appreciation of his brother Gregory, their parents, a saucy grandmother and some outstanding performers they ran across during their professional life, all this flows through this show with easy humor.

The songs are usually set up with fitting stories. Remembering his mother who encouraged her "babies" all the way, he croons the song his father sang to her, "I've Grown Accustomed to her Face." He sings signature songs of some idols, like Frank Sinatra's "I've Got You Under My Skin." Accompanied by Amy Shook's imaginative jazz riffs on bass, Hines performs an outstanding arrangement of "Honeysuckle Rose" honoring Lena Horne. He poignantly remembers Gregory in a soft shoe duet of "Street of Dreams," with a spotlight stand-in for Gregory. There were moments of eye-popping glamour seeing Las Vegas for the first time, and there were instances of segregation.

Speaking of eye-popping is the scenic design by Tobin Ost with vibrant moving panels, illuminated by Michael Gilliam's lighting effects and enhanced by Darrel Maloney's projections. Costume changes by T. Tyler Stumpf gives Hines three snazzy suit changes.

Theater and jazz highlights in his life are included with “Luck Be a Lady” and “I’ve Never Been in Love Before” from Guys and Dolls. A jazz memory goes to Joe Williams' popular, “Everyday I Have the Blues.” He also goes on to introduce a couple of young dancers, Leo and John Manzari, with their own flashing feet and virtuosity. The 20-somethings face-off with a fancy footwork competition and then join Hines in a splashy dancathon. In this show, they were joined by a third Hines' protégé, 17-year-old Dario Natarelli.

Not yet out of breath, Hines sings, "You're Just Too Marvelous," stepping off the stage to move across the front row, shaking hands. Maurice Hines, at 72, has not faded in his own "too marvelous" enthusiasm for music, dancing, songs, and sharing his fond memories of a legendary life during the golden age of musicals.

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