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Review: ‘Tappin’ Thru Life’ at the Penn’s Landing Playhouse in Philadelphia, PA

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About half the audience was standing and moving to the rhythm of the music. A few patrons remained in their seats and clapped while the Diva Orchestra played one last piece. There were no dancers on stage, but I could imagine the couples doing the lindy hop. Maurice Hines, Jr., Maximus and the Manzari Brothers had taken their bows and already left the stage after a standing ovation.

Leo Manzari, Maurice Hines, and John Manzari. Photo by Matt Urban, Mobius New Media.

Leo Manzari, Maurice Hines, and John Manzari. Photo by Matt Urban, Mobius New Media.

The sounds of big band music accompanied the high energy, and when the final note was played, there was another lively round of applause before everyone filed out of the auditorium. Tappin’ Thru Life, at the Penn’s Landing Playhouse is a combination of cabaret, big band jazz show, and musical, all rolled up into one. Created and choreographed by Maurice Hines, Jr., it is more than a musical review. It is a trip down memory lane with the legendary tap dancer and Broadway performer himself, set to live music. It is a tribute to his brother, Gregory Hines, and an opportunity to see young and up-and-coming talent—John and Leo Manzari and tween Maximus E. Klevence. It is an exuberant night of laughs, clapping, tapping feet, rhythm, and “oldies but goodies!”

Maurice Hines is still amazing and electric in his early seventies. I only mention his age because to sing and dance for over an hour with such precision and joy is a feat even for some professional performers half his age. His stage presence is magnetic and feels genuine, and his tapping is phenomenal. His songs are well choreographed and sung with heartfelt sentiment.

In Tappin’ Thru Life, Hines told me the story of his and his brother’s life, which was really all about show business, since they started modeling and dancing when they were very young. In addition to speaking directly to the audience about their experiences, he danced and sang jazz standards, which related to his life and to the famous people that they worked with. Among these were Lena Horne, Judy Garland and Frank Sinatra, to name a few. To depict some of the events in his life, there was a screen above the performers, where relevant photos and videos were projected. Michael Hahn did a fine job with the sound and projection design.

Maximus Klevence and the Manzari Brothers. Photo by Matt Urban, Mobius New Media.

Maximus Klevence and the Manzari Brothers. Photo by Matt Urban, Mobius New Media.

One of the most poignant moments of Tappin’ is when Hines demonstrates the first tap number that he performed with his brother. The lighting design by Scott Cocchiaro, in the form of two spotlights, as well as percussion from the orchestra, helped create the illusion for that scene.

The Diva Orchestra, an all women band composed of 3 saxophones, 2 trumpets, trombone, piano, percussion and bass, accompanied the singing and dancing throughout the show, and also played a few numbers without Hines or the other dancers. As in jazz tradition, there were “improvised” solos by the instrumentalists in the different pieces.

It is inspiring to see the new tap dancing talent that Hines mentors through this show. The Manzari brothers are only in their early twenties and just like Gregory and Maurice in their youth, complement and perform well together. Young Maximus E. Klevence (11 years old) and he easily kept up with Hines and the Manzari brothers. Not all performers do this and pass on what they know to the next generation or help those that are coming behind them. Hines is to be commended for including these young talents in a form of dance that is an important part of our cultural history, and that is quintessentially American!

Tappin’ Thru Life is a fun and entertaining show that chronicles the careers of Maurice and Gregory Hines. It is a must-attend for those that enjoy live music, jazz standards, and tap dancing, and great entertainment.

Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes, with no intermission.

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Tappin’ Thru Life plays through November 20, 2016 at Penn’s Landing Playhouse (Theater INSIDE the Independence Seaport Museum)  – 211 South Columbus Boulevard and Walnut Street in Philadelphia, PA. For tickets, call the box office at (855) 448-7469 or purchase them online.

LINKS:
‘Maurice Hines is Tappin’ Thru Life’ at Delaware Theatre Company in Wilmington, Delaware by Rachel Beecher.

‘Maurice Hines is Tappin’ Thru Life’ at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater by Rick Westerkamp.

‘Tappin’ Thru Time with a Legend: An Interview with Maurice Hines’ by Joel Markowitz.

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