Maurice Hines: Tappin’ His Way Off-Broadway

Maurice Hines: Tappin’ His Way Off-Broadway

Maurice Hines, backed by The Diva Orchestra, a nine-piece, all-female big band, shows why he’s the consummate entertainer in his new Off-Broadway show, scheduled to run thru March 13. (©Carol Rosegg)

At 72 years young, actor/dancer/singer/choreographer Maurice Hines cannot and will not slow down. And that’s a good thing: for him and for audiences fortunate to see and enjoy the man defy his age in his new Off-Broadway show aptly titled, “Maurice Hines Tappin’ Thru Life”.

In many ways, the show is a trip down memory lane for Hines. There are affectionate reminiscences aplenty of his family, especially his brother, the late Tony Award winner Gregory Hines, with whom he performed as a team from an early age. And when we talked just before previews began on Dec. 23 for a Jan. 11 opening night at New World Stages, there was nothing tearful about any of the memories he brought up, only joy and thankfulness.

Like his reminiscence about Ella Fitzgerald for whom the Hines brothers opened in Las Vegas. “Gregory and I were brought up in nightclubs,” Maurice said. “During the opening act, waiters would serve food. Somehow you had to bring the audiences’ faces up from their peas and carrots. I once asked Ella how she did it, how she got them. ‘Baby,’ she said, ‘I start scattin’ right away.’”

And obviously it worked because, as Hines is quick to point out among the laughter that always bubbles up when he talks and reminisces, audiences are crucial for this performer, even if there are only two people out there. As his mother used to tell him, “Be grateful, because they could be someplace else.” And grateful he is.

So, how does Hines prepare himself for his nightly rendezvous with the audience? How does he not only keep in shape but also keep up with young co-stars like the Manzari brothers, Leo and John, who, at nearly 50 years his junior, are Hines’ protégées? He works at it.

“I do the treadmill three times a week, 20 minutes each time,” he told me. “I do the treadmill because I need stamina to tap with the youngsters.”

“The treadmill through the years has kept me fit,” he continued. “But I don't do it when I’m in a show. I only do it when I’m not working. When I do a show, I’m moving constantly. I’m running up and down the stairs of the set. [Director] Jeff Calhoun’s got me running all over the place [in this show].”

Another secret to keeping limber is the ballet barre. “It keeps me stretched and everything,” said Hines, who, at one point in his continual exploration of the total possibilities of dance as an artistic expression, studied with Alvin Ailey. It’s training that has never and will never leave him.

But dance is only one part of this multitalented performer’s formidable instrument. How does he keep his singing voice tuned? His speaking voice is certainly as smooth as silk and sweet as honey.

“If you sing correctly, it wears you out. You’re using all your muscles, your diaphragm, everything. My abs are good because I sing correctly,” he said, chalking up one more triumph for senior fitness.

Diet also plays a large part in Hines’ daily regimen.

“I eat chicken and lots of vegetables and fruit. I stopped eating meat 20 years ago.” And from his lips to our ears, as if to drive the point home: “That’s helped me a great deal.”

There’s one further secret, well known to New Yorkers of all ages: native New Yorker Hines is an avid walker. He walks all over town. A lot. And on the day we talked, he was about to go thrift shopping. “Today’s my day to thrift shop,” he said. “I love thrift shops.”

How can you not admire a man who gets such pleasure from a well-ordered life? At the beginning of our time together, I asked how he was doing.

“I’m spectacular,” Hines said with an infectious joie de vivre. “I’m really happy.”

And there’s no reason to believe that a happier man exists in all New York.

“Maurice Hines Tappin’ Thru Life,” New World Stages, Stage 1, 340 W. 50th St., btw Eighth & Ninth aves., 212.239.6200, www.tappinthrulife.com

Have tap shoes will travel. Maurice Hines busts some moves and shows the next generation of tappers, Leo (left) and John (right) Manzari, how it’s done. (©Carol Rosegg)