If you’re lonely for the kind of polished and unabashedly sentimental lounge acts that Vegas is famous for, then you need to take a relaxing dip in Maurice Hines is Tappin’ Through Life, now at the Cleveland Play House.
Back in the day, the now 70-year-old Maurice was one-third of the tap dancing act Hines, Hines & Dad. Maurice lived somewhat in the shadow of his younger and more famous brother Gregory, who died in 2003. But now Maurice is center stage, and he has the smooth patter and unctuous manner of a tried and true vaudeville performer.
Although the title of this touring show refers to dancing, the first hour is almost entirely made up of familiar American Songbook-style tunes, delivered by Hines in a warm, jazzy vocal style. He is backed by the all-female Diva Jazz Orchestra that swings energetically under the direction of Dr. Sherrie Maricle (who contributes a most inventive drum solo during “Caravan”).
The songs are loosely woven around Hines’ career trajectory, illustrated helpfully by photos from the past. There are a lot of predictable show biz stops (meeting Ella, meeting Frank, getting invited to sit on Johnny’s couch). These are handled with wide-eyed wonder, and he never shares any juicy behind the curtain tidbits.
Naturally, any African-American entertainer would encounter prejudice traveling around the country in those years, and this is touched on when the Hines troupe is not permitted to play the strip in Vegas. That is an effective, sobering moment in a show that relentlessly looks on the sunny side.
Finally, in the last half hour, tap dancing takes the stage as Hines proves his feet can still fly with the best of them. He is aided immeasurably by, appropriately, another brother team of tappers, John and Leo Manzari. Their aggressive and innovative steps inject a needed jolt of adrenaline to this mostly mellow production. They are joined by a 12-year-old tap dancer, Grace Cannady, who is invited to join the fun.
And it is fun. Even so, one wishes that Hines would be more forthcoming about some of the difficulties of his life. And he might even share some secrets of the demands of tap dancing, an art form most of us can’t even imagine trying to attempt.
But if you’re looking for a mellow, undemanding evening of entertainment, Maurice Hines is all that. And a bag of chips.
Maurice Hines is Tappin’ Through Life
Through June 29 at the Cleveland Play House, 1407 Euclid Avenue, 216-241-6000.