The act was called Hines, Hines & Dad. But song-and-dance man Maurice Hines, 70, rectified any oversight of his mom, Friday night, as he opened his one-man show powered by personal history, “Maurice Hines is Tappin’ Thru Life,” at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts. The touching, classy, and beautifully staged cabaret program, fronted by Hines backed by a strong ensemble, chimed an extra beautiful note given the timeliness of the homage to Alma Hines — on the cusp of Mother’s Day.
“You’re just too marvelous for words,” crooned Hines to Alma, banishing any lingering Cafe Society phoniness from the Harold Arlen lyric by directing his song, heartfelt, toward an over-sized vintage photo of his handsome mother.
The image was one of many from Hines’s personal scrapbook projected, slideshow-style, onto colorful stage panels throughout the evening. He informed the audience that it had been his mother’s “vision for her sons” that catapulted the family act … with Dad along for the ride.
The 90-minute revue burbled securely in the hands of the show biz pro, the veteran of “Sophisticated Ladies,” “Eubie,” and “Jelly’s Last Jam”; it puttered along on these shared intimacies, each neatly paired with a song. Dollops of nostalgia (yes I remember Klein’s Department Store on 14th Street), and social and political history got interwoven with Hines family lore. President Obama, his foxy wife Michelle, (shame-inducing) memories of rascist pre-Civil Rights Las Vegas all had their place alongside an A-list of anecdotes — a great one about the two young brothers performing with Judy Garland. Sammy Davis Jr., Lena Horne, Pearl Bailey, Duke Ellington, Count Basie all figure in the rich entertainment tapestry of “Tappin’ Thru.”
And what about that song curation? Surprising selections included Stephen Stills’ “Love the One You’re With” (candidate for one of the most pragmatic lyrics ever written), “Honeysuckle Rose” (candidate for the dirtiest) and two charmers from “My Fair Lady”: “Get Me to the Church on Time” and “I’ve Grown Accustomed to her Face.” The audience grooved happily to Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing).”
A poignant pas-de-deux with the ghost of a little brother — that would be the late great Gregory Hines, gone missing too young, still achingly missed — was offset by Hines’s cozy but sophisticated stage patois. He excelled by sharing stage time, generously, with his all-girl band, the Diva Orchestra (not a shrinking violet among them), excellent dance buddies John & Leo Manzari (the good-natured stage-rivalry schtick worked) and miniature tap wonder, Luke Spring.
Oh, the joy of tap dancing, the necessity of it! This fine evening a chance to imbibe the fading fumes of that glorious art form, the hand-crafted cabaret-revue, in its worrisome flirtation with extinction.
Maurice Hines is Tappin’ Thru Life | Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts | thru May 24
Photo credit: top photo teresa wood, thank you, the washington post