By Kyle Osborne
In “Maurice Hines is Tappin’ Thru Life,” the great hoofer distills all of the best elements of old fashion “showbiz” into a delightfully entertaining ninety minute time capsule. Ostensibly set up as a tribute to his late brother and dancing partner since childhood, Gregory Hines, the show is one big set of segues, each featuring (seemingly) free-form memories from the dancing legend’s long career, each backstage story turned into an elegant name drop (Pearly Bailey, Judy Garland, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, and even Ol’ Blues Eyes himself, Frank Sinatra, all figure into the brief monologues. Most importantly, for Hines, anyway, is that each yarn sets up a reason to sing a song- Mostly standards and recognizable chestnuts from days gone by. “Come Fly With Me,” “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,” and a rousing “Luck Be A Lady Tonight” are among them.
You’d call it a “One-Man-Show,” but for the amazing 10 piece band behind him, the super tight, all female “Diva Jazz Orchestra” have the audience enraptured before Hines even takes the stage. Hines graciously gives solos to many of the players—yet another old school touch in a show full of them.
What there is precious little of in ‘Tappin’ Thru Life,’ at least for the first hour is—well, tapping ! The 70 year old teases a few times between songs, a quick shuffle here, a pointed toe there (his feet look tiny in his Capezios and wide legged trousers) always with incredible grace and form. But the audience, especially those who saw Hines in Arena’s production of “Sophisticated Ladies” several years back, clearly yearn for some clickety-clack.
Finally, it happens. Boy, does it ever.
Hines may be a great dancer and a serviceable singer, but what he is without peer these days is a Showman. It’s not always the steps, it’s how you sell the steps, and Hines coaxes laughs and cheers with just a glance at the crowd while his feet, existing in their own world, move a mile a minute. It’s an homage to old school (like the fabulous Nicholas Brothers, who get name checked) but it’s also a bridge to what is about to come; two sets of twins take the stage to blow the roof off the place.
Up first, the Manzari brothers, Leo and John, reprise their “showdown” routine with Hines that brought down houses in “Sophisticated Ladies.” Like blues guitarists “cuttin’,” one guy does his thing, finishes with a flourish, then gets in the face of the other—a non-verbal challenge that speaks volumes. Then the other takes a turn and tosses it back, and so on. If the audience were content before, this sequence sends whoops and squeals from the crowd, egging on the dancers even more.
Unlike Hines, the Manzari’s style is a hybrid that combines the louder, more acrobatic moves of the “STOMP” generation with the “Soft Shoe” of another age. And just to tie things up with a ribbon, two more twins, the eleven year old Heimowitz brothers, Max and Sam, come out and dazzle with cuteness and professional level (obviously) skills that almost assure a career as long as there is an audience for this kind of art form.
This particular time capsule doesn’t go all the way back to the early 60’s version of Vegas and The Rat Pack, instead it goes back to around that time in the early 70’s, when Dean Martin, for instance, was in his mid-50’s, yet still considered ultra-cool by so many. A few years on him, a few more drinks, but a man (like his Vegas peers) who was seasoned into a kind of comfort that could never be faked—only lived. With the semi-mod looking stage design, white floor and bandstand, and the video panels that move in and out, one isn’t so much taken back to a casino as much as, perhaps, a TV studio of 1972 vintage. Yes, Hines mixes Cabaret and Vegas Showroom elements, but if a studio camera had trucked downstage for a close-up, one wouldn’t have been surprised.
Would you like to travel back in time, then be returned safely to the present with a warm feeling that lasts the rest of the evening? Let Maurice Hines be your guide. Take his hand—go fly with him—go fly away.