You have a choice: Catch Maurice Hines' song-and-dance Tappin' Thru Life at DTC or wait for NYC.
Delaware Theatre Company's current production offers advantages. The house holds 315 in a space expansive enough to let the nine-piece Diva Jazz Orchestra soar, but still so intimate that Hines could shuffle down from the stage during an extended musical segment to shake hands with audience members.
Hines' show pays tribute to his deceased brother Gregory and a host of performers who influenced the Hines brothers' careers. Sliding screens in Tobin Ost's set flank a Marley floor and display photographs and clips, notably of the Hines brothers' tap number from Francis Ford Coppola's The Cotton Club.
Through song, tap numbers, and monologues, Hines relates his vaudeville start as a child; his first Vegas performance as a teen; and insider stories about appearing alongside the likes of Lena Horne, Ella Fitzgerald, and Judy Garland. These tales give a dreamlike quality to his life, and to the show - his career spanned an unrepeatable era that blended Hollywood, Vegas, and Broadway.
Hines' ad-libbing and soft-stepping are filled with humor, eliciting laughs as he improvises, once pausing mid-stride to comment, "I love this step, it's so sexy." And when he caps an anecdote about experiencing racism with a reflective version of "Smile," we can see the heartbreak and the transformative power of performance that transcends it.
If the show makes it to New York, I can imagine some changes being made. It now contains a few gimmicky elements that entertain but aren't well-integrated into the biopic story line, like 9-year-old Jake Sweeny, who won a local audition to tap dance in the show with the Manzari brothers, John and Leo. He glides and waves his lanky arms like a magician, mesmerizing for a child, and the Manzari brothers could pack a house of their own, with a tap style that's both swagger and elegance, as they drill toes and hammer heels into the stage with thrilling athleticism and force.
Yes, their performances add a vaudevillian quality that breaks up the 90-minute biopic. But when it comes to Hines' life and the era in which he performed, I wanted only to hear and see more of this consummate entertainer, wherever I can.