BWW Reviews: MAURICE HINES is TAPPIN' THRU LIFE
(Member, American Theatre Critics Association, Cleveland Critics Circle)
"Woody Sez: The Life and Music of Woody Guthrie," "Maestro: Leonard Bernstein," "The Devil's Music: The Life and Times of Bessie Smith," "One Night with Janice Joplin." What do these all have in common? They are shows that Cleveland Play House has staged in the last several years, and they are productions that showcase the musical talents of a particular artist.
Before you state "These aren't plays, they are night club acts," realize that CPH is not the only place where these types of shows have become staples. Broadway's 2013-2014 season featured "Beautiful The Carole King Musical," "Soul Doctor (Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach)," "A Night With Janus Joplin," "After Midnight" (Duke Ellington), and "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill" (Billy Holliday).
CPH is closing its season with "Maurice Hines Is Tappin' Thru Life." With such a title one would expect tapping, tapping, and more tap dancing. 'Taint the case. More than two-thirds of the show is Hines talking and singing about his childhood, his relationship with his brother, Gregory, the influence of his mother and father on his life, and his connections with the likes of Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Sammy Davis, Jr., Dean Martin, Lena Horn, and Harry Belafonte.
Hines sings, shows pictures, has his "Diva Orchestra," an all-women's musical group, play as a unit and as solo performers, and has brothers John Manzari and Leo Manzari, who appeared with him in "Sophisticated Ladies," dance. He also makes some tapping-like moves and lets loose for one good clackity-clack routine.
Played and sung big band songs include: "I've Never Been in Love Before," "Smile," "A Tisket, a Tasket," "Caravan," "It Don't Mean a Thing," and "Too Marvelous for Words," and such Broadway favorites as "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face" and "Luck Be a Lady."
The personal history is interspersed with social and political comments regarding integration, segregation, and his fondness for President Obama.
Much of the dialogue, comments to and with the audience and the band, are ad-libbed, making for a comfortable interaction in the intimate Allen Theatre.
Hines is charming and knows how to play a room. He localizes the show by talking about eating at Hot Sauce Williams Restaurant with Laura Kepley, the artistic director of the Play House. There is so much kitsch that it's surprising that he didn't put on an Indians cap or a Brown's or Cav's jersey sometime during the show.
The band is big and bold. No subtlety here. Horns blare, the drums get a workout, the pianist pounds the keys. Good stuff.
The show hits its dancing peak when John and Leon Manzari come on and "tap out a beat" and make sparks fly as they tap in various styles. Ditto for an appearance by an adorable and talented teen-aged dancer, Grace Cannady, from Boston. In Atlanta, DC, Boston and at the Manhattan Club 54 Below, where the show has been staged before, there was a child dancer or two added to the goings-on. Part of the reason may be that Hines probably can't dance with the same vigor or steam as he did in his far-distant youth and needed to prop up the tapping segments.
The bandstand set works well. Instrumentalists rise as they do their solos. Hines walks up and down the large white platform/steps to add visual dimension. Pictures are electronic graphics shown on panels which slide on and off stage.
CAPSULE JUDGMENT: "Maurice Hines Is Tappin' Thru Life," is a personable concert, which is more a Vegas act, than a play. Audiences anticipating 90-minutes of non-stop dancing may be frustrate. Some might question why CPH is doing a "touring" show rather than producing its own product and why they stage these one-person bio-musicals. Whatever. The majority of the audience will come and enjoy themselves.