Wanna be charmed for a couple of hours by a master entertainer? Maurice Hines, a true theatrical treasure, takes his audience on a trip down memory lane that is by turns suave, sophisticated, rousing and poignant. Tappin' Thru Life is not a standard autobiographical show. It does not travel simply from point A to point B, although the reminiscing by Mr. Hines makes you want to grab some coffee and just pick his brain about all of the wonderful performers he has worked with and gives glorious glimpses of as the evening progresses.
The structure of Tappin' Thru Life is staged as if it was a headlining act from the heyday of the Las Vegas strip. Backed by the incredible Diva Jazz Orchestra, musical direction by one of the best drummers alive, Dr. Sherrie Maricle, Mr. Hines uses a bit of big band, bit of swing, a sprinkling of jazz and some golden age Broadway tunes to bring this love letter to his family to life. For, yes, you will be treated to some very adorable baby pictures and really sweet portraits of his parents, Maurice, Sr. and Alma Hines. His late brother Gregory seems to be hovering in the wings waiting for his turn to take his natural place as part of Hines and Hines (and Dad). While we get treated to tales about performing or simply meeting Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack, Tallulah Bankhead and Judy Garland, it is the stories of Maurice's family that deepen the meaning of this production. Do not be surprised if a tear or two sprinkling into the joy that the audience will take away from seeing this show.
Jeff Calhoun is listed as the director, but it is clear that Mr. Calhoun has merely guided Mr. Hines in the shaping of this show. Mr. Hines tells the love story of his parents, his partnership with his brother and the amazing opportunities he had to mingle with famous performers over the years. Mr. Hines does not shy away from mentioning the natural prejudices that he faced as a child growing up in the 1940's and 1950's. Not many younger audience members may realize that even Las Vegas in the 1950's was segregated. The relating of that dark reality is not heavy-handed. Simply using the story of that time as he remembers it, coupled with poignant images and a heart breaking rendition of the old standard Smile suffices.
Maurice Hines is a generous performer and firmly believes in passing down his incredible body of knowledge to the next generation of tappers. To that end he shares the stage with the Manzari brothers, who were featured in Arena Stage's revival of Sophisticated Ladies at the Lincoln Theater a few seasons back. He goes one step further and adds the even younger Heimowitz brothers to the mix. Tap is an American institution that needs to be nurtured. With Mr. Hines as mentor and inspiring performers like the Manzari and Heimowitz brothers the future of tap is in great hands, or perhaps more appropriately, in great feet.
Audiences will laugh, clap along and sing along with Maurice Hines, the Manzari Brothers, the Heimowitz Brothers and the Diva Jazz Orchestra. For an energetic evening of theater that's a bit different than the usual holiday fare you could not do any better than to unwrap this hot chestnut from under your theatrical tree this season.
Maurice Hines is Tappin' Thru Life is being performed in the Kreeger Theatre at Arena Stage's Mead Center for American Theater through December 29, 2013. For tickets and other performance information please visit arenastage.org.