“WELL, HELLO CLEVELAND!” With that glorious opening, the legendary Maurice Hines opened his old school Vegas show at The Cleveland Play House to an enthusiastic response. Well, actually, the show opened with an attending senior who was a little overexcited, so much so, he needed to be escorted back to his seat after dancing and cavorting around the front of the stage. I actually thought that he might be the opening and hop of the stage and start tapping. I thought wrong. But that actually just reflected the excitement of the crowd. Backed by the remarkable and frisky THE DIVA ORCHESTRA, led by acclaimed Musical Director Dr. Sherrie Maricle, Hines launches into his jazz infused rendition of “I’ve Never Been In Love Before.”
He then takes us through the early years, with assistance from photos projected on the cleverly designed screen panels. Even then, the brothers attracted attention. So with the vision of his mother, and the dancing abilities of his father, the young protégées were guided to hone their talented dancing feet. Hines talks about his parents a lot in very touching moments. But the sweetest is his rendition of “I’ve Grown Accustomed To Your Face”, where he intertwines a parental moment of love. He also can’t say enough about Cleveland, and gives a shout out to Artistic Director Laura Kepley, and their visit to Hot Sauce Williams to turn his mood around.
At ages 7 to 9, the tapping phenoms appear in Las Vegas. But not on the strip, due to the racial prejudice that existed. And even though that happened, the mood is kept light. However, the bluntness of racism is quite a life check on how far we have come, and where we need to go. Their first encounter with celebrity greatness was with Tallulah Bankhead, who made a life changing introduction to Pearl Bailey. In a powerful moment, Hines explains how they all went for a swim, but afterwards, the hotel drained the pool. He then gently rolls into “Smile”, while pictures of segregation are shown in the panels. It gives the song a whole new meaning, but also represents their strength in persevering. Hines also, addresses prejudice in other areas as well, highlighting DOMA, while he sings “Get Me To The Church On Time.” Now, this is a class act. Stories abound about meetings with Johnny Carson, Ella Fitzgerald, the Rat Pack, Judy Garland, and then Duke Ellington and his musical “Sophisticated Ladies” lightheartedly follow.
One touching moment is when Hines tap dances with his brother, represented by a spotlight, and recreates the first soft shoe number they ever learned. With that, it is time to tap. And joining the icon on stage is John and Leo Manzari, who previously appeared in Arena Stage’s Production of Duke Ellington’s “Sophisticated Ladies” starring Hines at the Lincoln Theatre. Tapping off with their mentor, these two brothers are fierce tappers with agility, grace, and moves that seem to defy gravity. They are two good looking dancing athletic artists that raise the roof with their charm and execution. Not to be outdone, Hines brings on a young lady that appears to be right out of “Alice in Wonderland.” Well she quickly sheds that moniker with a scorching tap routine that has the audience going nuts. Then, the three join together for a tap off that is so much fun, you don’t want it to end.
The evening ends with a tribute to his mother, with whom he credits his career to her vision. In a rendition of “Too Marvelous for Words”, you can just feel the love this family had for each other through all the pain and suffering that they all must have gone through. But the pain is not what Hines wants you to focus on, it is the strength that lies within families, it is the drive that results from oppression, and it is the soul of a dancer and the spirit that is released with each step. This is an evening of old school Vegas. I don’t think my feet stopped bopping or shaking to the rhythms the entire evening.
The Creative Design Team for the show includes Tobin Ost (Scenic Designer), T. Tyler Stumpf (Costume Designer), Michael Gillian (Lighting Designer), Carl Casella (Sound Designer), and Darrel Maloney (Projection Designer). Stage Manager Jennifer Matheson Collins, along with Assistant Stage Manager Tom Humes, called a great show.
Bravo to The Cleveland Play House for bringing this piece to Playhouse Square. AND, don’t leave right away, the DIVA ORCHESTRA plays out the performance with a kick ass number. The folks that remained were cheering and yelling at the end. So much fun, but yes, old school. For me, that is totally cool.
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May 30 – June 22
2:30pm and 7:30pm Saturdays
$15-$55 Reserved Seating
Order tickets: http://www.clevelandplayhouse.com/main-stage/maurice-hines-is-tappin-thru-life
Allen Theater Complex
1407 Euclid Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44115