TAPPIN’ THRU LIFE is a revue, and review, of performer Maurice Hines’s life, his childhood in New York, his tap lessons with the phenomenal Henry LeTang, his beginnings in show business, his act with his brother Gregory and their father, conquering segregated, racist Las Vegas, moving on to television and eventually Broadway, a crise between the brothers that ended in a beautifully sentimental way, and so on through Guys and Dolls and packaged hits to the performer Maurice is today.
The basics are all there, but show business savvy—while prevalent in much of what Hines presents—is absent when it comes to disciplining himself to make a number play just right. He’s always pushing a song or routine one shticky step past schmaltz. Nothing settles in its perfect place. I thought that with a sharp eye like Jeff Calhoun directing, TAPPIN’ might be different to Hines’s previous work, but Maurice is hard-wired to overdo.
Hines speaks often about sincerity and doing his entertaining from the heart, yet every minute of TAPPIN’ THRU LIFE seems self-consciously primed to have to an effect and plays as false. Even the name of the show, with its apostrophe and misspelling of “through” is too precious and massaged. Maurice is looking for a theater piece and he ends up doing a Las Vegas lounge act from the 1970s.
Nostalgic photos and stories from Hines’s show business career register well, but when Hines uses tales to introduce a song, as he does constantly in TAPPIN’, the gimmick bombs, and you don’t believe a word of anything that happens next. In the midst of numbers, you can see, hear, and feel Maurice calculating what might get a reaction. He doesn’t sing to the house or to himself. He plans what might thrill or impress and looks to see if it does. For all of his talk about sincerity and honesty, his performance comes off as manipulated and deviously so. Everything is measured to an anal degree, so nothing seems natural, genuine, or effortless.
For me, it’s not as angering as it is upsetting, because I can read Maurice’s need for approval in all of those computed moves and because I can see the true entertainer behind the saffa-daffa. I keep rooting for Maurice to create the show that will fulfill him and feature him as the fine, secure performer I know he can be.
Maurice has an eye for talent. He was accompanied on stage, too briefly, by a lively, attractive pair of tap dancing brothers, John and Leo Manzari. Both dance with gusto and savoir faire. Hines used them more as a foil than as an act he meant to showcase, but the clean-cut John and trendily styled Leo knew how to grab the spotlight when they had the chance. The guys’ individual style of dancing match their appearance. John has a lot of discipline and makes crisp, clean moves. Leo is more rangy and expansive while keeping within the beat and pattern prescribed for a dancing duo. It was fun to see the Manzari Brothers.
Also delightful on opening night in Wilmington was nine-year-old Jake Sweeney, who performed his animated tap routine with confidence and style.
Hines loosened up occasionally to have fun with his all-woman band, The Diva Jazz Orchestra, some of which were assigned shtick, most of which played better than Hine’s own gimmicks. Trombonist Jennifer Krupa (now there’s a name brimming with legacy) and bassist Amy Shook provided a lot of fun.
TAPPIN’ THRU LIFE has the potential to be a marvelous show, a good example of the Vegas fare of the ’70s instead of an exaggerated parody of one. Even as he tries too hard, you recognize the talent Maurice Hines has. I am in a minority by not praising TAPPIN’ THRU LIFE and the energy Maurice expends to the hilt. But I saw two shows, the one that could have been and the one that was overlarded to the point it seemed scheming and desperate. Regrettably, it was the latter show that registered the strongest.