Since local theater producer Philip Roger Roy (whose coffee house venue, Grendel’s Lair, was THE place to go in Center City in the 1970s) has been bringing (mostly) comedy reviews to Philly – first at the Society Hill Playhouse (another theater institution now gone) and recently to the performance space (now dubbed “The Penns Landing Theater”) inside the Independence Seaport Museum at Penns Landing, nearly all the shows were comedy pieces targeted to a specific audience (Menopause- The Musical, Old Jews Telling Jokes, The Calamiri Sisters). And only Respect! (girl group songs) had live music.
Well, Roy has brought a real treat to Philly audiences – of all ages – in the form of the newest show: Maurice Hines – Tappin’ =Thru Life. I first saw the 71 year old Hines tap dancing and singing with his younger brother, Gregory, and their dad (Maurice Hines Sr.) on TV variety shows in the late 1950s, and I’d make sure to see the two brothers live on stage as they came through Philly in tryouts for Broadway shows. The last was the hit Eubie! In 1979 (10 years after they became estranged and later reunited).
Sadly, Gregory died in 2003, but Maurice is taking their story “on the road” in this 90-minute musical autobiography that includes Gregory in spirit, if not in person. The show has opened in Boston in 2013 and later plated Washington, DC, and off Broadway in NYC. Lucky for us, Hines still has the energy of the Energizer Bunny and Roy and his producing partners, has brought the show to Philly for stay through November 20th., where it is playing Wednesdays Through Sundays. (Note that evening performances are only Thursday, Friday and Saturday, with 2pm matinees on Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.
I had the chance to see the show at Friday’s opening night performance and can easily say this one is a winner!. Throughout the intermission-less evening (or matinee), Hines tells the store of the Hines family using projected images of family photos and by singing the standards that were performed on TV shows or in Broadway shows like Ain’t Misbehavin’’ or Guys & Dolls. (Sadly there were no songs from Eubie!) and Hines is backed by the amazing all-girl band - The Diva Jazz Orchestra – which is led by drummer Sherrie Maricle, and was founded by Stanley Kay in 1993. (BTW, I learned that Sherrie now lives in Fishtown and travels to NYC to perform with the Divas at clubs like Birdland. Hopefully someone will give the Divas their own concert. They are THAT good. (Stay for their “exit music” after Hines leaves the stage!
But back to the front of the stage. While Hines doesn’t do much hot-footin’ for the first 45 minutes of the show, he more than makes up for it when he brings out the fabulous Manzari Brothers (whose stage credits are starting to look like the Hines’s ) and – on a rotating basis – a local young (1-14 year old) tapper. Opening night featured Maximus E. Klevence who reminded me of the first time I saw Savion Glover (a protégée’ of Gerg Hines) tap at the age of 12 years old. Klevence got to solo and then join the Manzaris. And the brothers did some “challenge” steps with Maurice.
The venue has wonderful sight lines and great sound system. And is just the right size for this show. Since it’s not exactly IN Center City, the producers were able to get a deal with Penns Landing Corp to offer a special $10 discount parking rate for the outside lot next to the museum. (Don’t park in the Hilton Hotel; the discount doesn’t apply there).
I haven’t seen any other reviews yet, but once the word gets out, I’m sure evening tix will be flying off the shelf. So don’t wait. And, yes, this is an “all ages” show and any kids interested in tap dancing will love it. One other recommendation: If you buy your tix on line you will need to exchange the voucher for a paper ticket when you arrive. So plan to arrive early to not have a long line. And you can use that extra time to explore some of the Museum’s galleries as a bonus.