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A CurtainUp Review
Tappin'Thru Life

"My brother's gone, my mother's gone and my father's gone... To be with my family on the stage, to talk about them and show all the pictures we had ... makes me feel protected." — Maurice Hines in a Los Angeles Times interview with Lewis Segal.
Tappin'Thru Life
Maurice Hines has been sharing memories of his family and career all over the country. Now, his song and dance animated memoir has landed at New World Stages's large #1 venue. Though rather thin and heavily sugar-coated in terms of details about the darker aspects of his story (for instance, the cause of the 10-year estrangement with his brother Gregory and long-time dance partner is never specified), his long career on club and theater stages and in movies provides plenty of celebrity name dropping opportunities with which to enliven and musicalize his reminiscences.

With an assist of director Jeff Calhoun, currently represented on Broadway with Spring Awakening, he's expanded his intention to pay tribute to the brother, mother and dad who are no longer with him. Projected excerpts from the family scrapbook as well as projected images of celebrities he met and worked with (Ella Fitzgerald, Lena Horne, Judy Garland, to name just a few), imbues Maurice's reminiscences with the flavor of a by-gone show business world. There's more talk and singing than tapping, at least by Hines but there are intermittent appearances by a dynamic pair of 20-something brothers, John and Leo Manzari. There's also a showstopping appearance featuring some amazing young tappers.

To further fill out what could otherwise be a solo piece, there's Drummer and Music Director Sherrie Marcie's 9-piece Diva band, all except pianist Jackie Warren and Marcie positioned upstage of Tobin Ost's set with its staircase and sliding panels for Darrel Maloney's projections. They sure know how to make their instruments deliver spirited swing numbers shades of the Big Band era. The problem is that they're not at the huge old Paramount or the Roxy theaters but in a more modest theater so that their sound can be deafening. Given that Mr. Hines is not a big belter like Ethel Merman, even with microphone in hand cabaret style the Divas drown him out most of the time.

It's not that they don't know how to do a more subtle accompaniment, as when Hines recalls Judy Garland and segues into a rendition of "I Can't Give You Anything But Love." That said, the songs chosen to accompany the celebrity mentions and accompanying projected images. Maybe, like the final Sinatra favorite, "Too Marvelous for Words," the older audience members will know the words.

The plot, if you can call the personable and still peppy 72-year-old Mr. Hines' upbeat tour through his celebrity studded life, takes us back to when he and his brother were adorable toddlers. The cute siblings had people in the streets of Harlem rushing out to watch them not just walking but as their mother put it, walking to the beat of Count Basie." The brothers über adorableness even turned their shopping trips to Klein's once famous bargain fashion emporium on 14th Street into a modeling gig.

The Hines brothers' career trajectory began as an opening dance act at the Apollo Theater and eventually took them to New York and Las Vegas. (The Las Vegas segment is one of the few less sugary reflections on the still rampant segregation during the 1950s.) The fast-paced swing down memory lane includes the period when the act morphed into a threesome with dad Hines coming on board as the drummer. Much credit is given to their career-making appearances on the Johnny Carson show.

Having Hines playing host to the dazzlingly talented Manzari Brothers is an apt diversion to show the sort of tapping on all burners he did in his younger days. It's also a felicitous reminder of the long-standing tradition of sibling dance acts (the Hines brothers succeeded the famous Nicholas Brothers). Since the Manzaris who first teamed up with Hines in a production of Duke Ellington's Sophisticated Ladies are in their twenties, the addition of the young tap wizards to join them near the end is also a hopeful sign that young dance prodigies will continue to amaze us. Twelve -year-old Luke Spring who wowed the audience when I attended alternates with Dario Natarellia and sisters Julia Ruth, Devin Ruth.

Though Hines and the Manzaris even get a change of outfits (courtesy T. Tyler Stumpf), Tappin' Thru Life never really sheds its Las Vegas variety act aura. Yet Maurice Hines' joy at being on stage is contagious enough to probably make the audience enjoy this up close visit with a man born to entertain.

Maurice Hines: Tappin' Thru Life
Written by Maurice Hines
Directed by Jeff Calhoun
Cast: Hines, the Manzari Brothers (John and Leo), Luke Storm, Julia Ruth, Devin Ruth, Dario Natarelli (alternating kid tappers)
Set design by Tobin Ost
Sound design by Michael Hahn
Lighting design by Michael Gilliam
Projection design by Darrel Maloney
Stage Manager: Melanie T. Morgan
Tunning Time: 90 minutes without intermission
New World Stages 340 W. 50th Street 212-239-6280
From 12/23/15; opening 1/11/16; closing 3/13/16
Wednesday at 2pm and 8pm, Thursday at 8pm, Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 2pm and 8pm, Sunday at 3pm, and Monday at 8pm.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at 1/08/16 press preview
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