Maurice Hines comes tappin’ thru Delaware

     Maurice Hines performing at the Delaware Theatre Company (photo courtesy of DTC)

    Maurice Hines performing at the Delaware Theatre Company (photo courtesy of DTC)

    Fingers were snappin’ and toes tappin’ Saturday night when the Delaware Theatre Company opened its 37th season with “Maurice Hines Is Tappin’ Thru Life.”

    At 72, Hines is, in every sense of the word, an accomplished performer: a Tony award nominee and a celebrated singer, dancer, choreographer and director whose career spans more than four decades. Along with his famous younger brother, the late great tap master Gregory Hines, Hines has danced his way across stages both here and abroad.

    More importantly, Hines belongs to that rare—and sadly vanishing—breed of entertainer who believes he needs his fans more than they need him.

    Backed by the Diva Jazz Orchestra, an all-female powerhouse ensemble, he charmed the audience throughout the 95-minute revue, heaping praise on Wilmington, its people and the DTC in word and song with “I’ve Never Been in Love Before.” He certainly felt Wilmington was “in the middle of it all” and the sold-out audience was rapt.

    Hines talked about dining out with DTC Executive Director Bud Martin at Harry’s Seafood Grill on the Riverfront. And he was interactive, asking the audience to sing back- up on Steven Stills’ “Love the One You’re With,” needling Martin for nixing his request for backing singers.

    Whether crooning “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,” the song his father sang to his mother on their first date in 1942, or performing a soft shoe next to a lonely spotlight standing in for his brother Gregory, Hines painted a vivid picture of his personal and professional lives.

    The show pays homage to the legendary talents who gave the Hines Kids—that’s the name he and Gregory used when they hit the legendary Apollo Theater at ages 7 and 5, respectively—serendipitous and substantial support in the every-man-for-himself world of show business: Ella Fitzgerald, Lena Horne, Sammy Davis Jr. and Judy Garland among others.

    The poignant production is also, as Hines proudly points out, a love letter to his mother who, unlike their skeptical father, firmly believed her talented toddlers were destined for stardom. “Isn’t she beautiful?” he asked the audience as he lovingly gazed at the faded black-and-white images of Alma Hines in her wedding gown and decked out in a stylish fur coat alongside his father. The resemblance is striking.

    Another heartfelt moment occurred when he told of an argument that caused a ten-year estrangement between the brothers. But once reconciled, they were inseparable until Gregory died of cancer in 2003. “I miss my brother,” Maurice said softly before singing “My Buddy.”

    Hines shared the stage with the Manzari Brothers—a pair of charismatic siblings who appeared with him in “Sophisticated Ladies.” Their jaw-dropping tap routine was relentlessly high octane, a perfect complement to the veteran’s easy and graceful elegance.

    Sparks really flew when Jake Sweeny, a fleet-footed nine-year-old who studies tap at the Delaware Arts Conservatory, joined the Manzaris to see who could one-up whom in a fast and furious battle of the taps.

    Another show-stopper: the blistering drum solo courtesy of Diva Music Director/Drummer Sherrie Maricle during a performance of Duke Ellington’s “Caravan.”

    Some may find the liberties Hines takes with chronology—starting off the show with baby pictures then picking up that thread later—a bit disconcerting. But the absence of a strict time line lends the performance an air of spontaneity, allowing this consummate raconteur the opportunity to ad-lib and delve at will into his treasure trove of memories, some pleasant, others not so pleasant.

    Hines recounted his meet-up with Frank Sinatra, then king of Las Vegas, in Sammy Davis Jr.’s dressing room, only to be followed by the “King of Cool” himself, Dean Martin, glass (of apple juice, mind you) in hand. “Jay-Z and P. Diddy think they’re cool, baby, but Dean Martin was the coolest man I’d ever seen.”

    He also told of the time when he, his mother and brother were guests of Tallulah Bankhead at her whites-only Las Vegas hotel. The brothers went into the pool only to see the proprietors drain the water after they exited. “Smile, though your heart is aching / Smile even though it’s breaking,” crooned Hines launching into Nat “King” Cole’s signature song about perseverance and maintaining dignity in the face of adversity.

    Hines closed the show with a love song to the audience: “Too Marvelous for Words,” and with five standing ovations, they obviously felt the same toward him.

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