At the top of the show, Maurice Hines said, “DC is fierce!” After experiencing Maurice Hines is Tappin’ Thru Life tonight at Arena Stage, I must say that it is Hines himself that is fierce! From his magnificent storytelling, to his smooth vocal stylings, to his crisp and rhythmic tap steps, Hines is pouring his heart and soul onto the stage with beauty and honesty.
The storytelling involved in the evening is really the piece de resistance of the performance. The anecdotes bring out the pathos in Hines, while at the same time providing a timeline for his life and the course of the production. From stories about his early childhood days and adolescence, performing with his brother Gregory, to stories about their parents’ relationship, Hines reveals the many layers of himself. Each anecdote is accompanied by a couple of photographs, projected on the geometric set pieces. One of my favorite moments was his anecdote about segregation, through a story about Tallulah Bankhead and Pearl Bailey at a swimming pool. From this raw emotion, Hines transitioned seamlessly into Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile.”
While Hines only tap-danced in a few numbers, his dancer persona was invested in every aspect of the performance, and the moments that he did dance were wonderful. Every step he took on that stage had the poise and pizzazz of a dancer, while still being organic. He moved with each song he sang, be it the tap of a toe, the snap of a wrist, or the shake of his hips. Dance was present, and was a through line in the evening along with his storytelling. His dance break in the middle of Duke Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If You Ain’t Got That Swing)” was marvelous. The rolling rhythms that were carried from each section of the break were intricate and intoxicating. Hines even shared with us the steps he created for President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama.
Mr. Hines performed with the fabulous Diva Jazz Orchestra. These ladies are each, in their own right, masters of their crafts and looked as though they were having the time of their lives. Dr. Sherrie Maricle on the drums and Amy Shook on the acoustic bass had stand out solo moments, and made their presence and their artistry known. The rest of the orchestra was comprised of Janelle Gill on piano, Jennifer Krupa on trombone, Jami Dauber on Trumpet, Liesl Whitaker on lead trumpet, Sharel Cassity on lead alto saxophone, Camille Thurman on tenor saxophone, and Leigh Pilzer on baritone saxophone. Not only did the Diva Jazz Orchestra play their instruments with tremendous talent and presence, they also sang a little back up and entertained Mr. Hines in some of his shtick.
Mr. Hines was joined by two extraordinarily talented duets of brothers: John and Leo Manzari and Max and Sam Heimowitz. The beauty in the involvement of these younger dancers was two-fold for me. For one, Mr. Hines began as a duo with his brother Gregory, and so much of the show and his performance career is because of that bond, both on and off the stage. The other reason I found their involvement wonderful was that three generations of tap dancers were represented on the stage, and that celebration of the art, and the furthering of the artistry, is something to be celebrated.
John and Leo Manzari are no strangers to Arena Stage, as they appeared with Hines in Duke Ellington’s Sophisticated Ladies. This pair of tappers are tremendous talents and absolutely breathtaking to behold onstage. Their performances were intricate, rhythmically diverse, and full-bodied. Their suave personas represented a modern take on the class that Mr. Hines brought to rhythm tap. As they travelled across the stage, turning and shuffling, I found the unpredictable nature of the compositions of their choreography mesmerizing. Max and Sam Heimowitz, newcomers to Arena Stage, held their own in the performance, and looked like they were having a blast onstage. Their performances were dynamic, fun, and energetic. Seeing these young men onstage with Mr. Hines was truly wonderful.
If you’re looking for a waltz down memory lane through storytelling, song, and dance, with a host with personality for days, do not miss Maurice Hines is Tappin’ Thru Life, at Arena Stage. You will be dancing in your seat, feeling the emotional ups and downs of Hines’s anecdotes, and leave the theatre humming the classic tunes from the show.
Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission
Maurice Hines is Tappin’ Thru Life plays through December 29, 2013 in the Kreeger at Arena Stage at The Mead Center for American Theater – 1101 Sixth Street, SW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 488-3300, or purchase them online.
‘Tappin’ Thru Time with a Legend: An Interview with Maurice Hines’ by Joel Markowitz.