Tap Icon Maurice Hines Takes Second Turn in Duke Ellington Tribute

June 16, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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Thirty years after his original turn in the Duke Ellington tribute "Sophisticated Ladies," tap dance icon Maurice Hines returns the show as dancer, choreographer and mentor in the revival at Lincoln Theater. Jeffrey Brown talks to Hines about sharing his work with the next generation.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally tonight: a return to the stage and a chance to mentor a new generation.

Jeffrey Brown looks at a dancing phenomenon.

JEFFREY BROWN: Almost 30 years after appearing in the original production of “Sophisticated Ladies,” Maurice Hines is still at it.

JEFFREY BROWN: At 66, the man who gained fame tapping away with his brother Gregory remains a marvel, dancing, creating the choreography, and taking audiences through a review of the life of one America’s greatest musicians, Duke Ellington.

MAURICE HINES, “Sophisticated Ladies”: Well, it’s a celebration of the greatness and the genius of man. He really was quite exceptional, you know, as a musician. And, then, as a personality, of course, he was — when we said those things, I love you madly, or we love you madly, you know, to make those things up, it’s just — I just love it.

I’m the happiest I have been on the stage…


MAURICE HINES: … with the exception of working with my brother. I have done great shows and been very happy, but, even with injuries, which you do get as a dancer, I can’t wait to get on that stage.

JEFFREY BROWN: And there’s added history to this revival being presented by Arena Stage. It’s performed at the historic Lincoln Theatre, where Ellington got his start in a club in what’s now the theater’s basement and which sits in the neighborhood where he grew up in the heart of Washington’s U Street district known in the 1920s as the Black Broadway.

MAURICE HINES: Homegrown music right here. So, I’m tapping to him — his sound and his musicianship. So, it makes me invent and create. And, at this time in my career, that’s a gift.

JEFFREY BROWN: Gregory and Maurice Hines began their tap dance brother act as young children, and gained a large following through stage and TV appearance, as well as in films, including “The Cotton Club” in 1984.

They w

ere well aware of following in a great tap tradition of dancers, including other siblings, like the Nicholas Brothers from the 1930s. And they were eager to keep that tradition alive.

GREGORY HINES, Actor: If I win, you take over the clubs.

ACTOR: And if I win?

JEFFREY BROWN: In the late ’80s, Gregory, who died in 2003, became mentor to tap phenomenon Savion Glover.

As Maurice tells the story, Gregory promised that, one day, Maurice, too, would find dancers to mentor who shared his love of jazz, dance, and ballet, as well as tap.

And that is what’s now happened. During auditions for “Sophisticated Ladies,” John and Leo Manzari, two Washington, D.C., high school brothers, went through their paces in different styles of dance, and caught Hines’ attention.

MAURICE HINES: I said, oh, you’re brothers. And the little light when on right away. You’re brothers, I see.

So, I let them do the stuff. They did the jazz and the ballet and all this. so, I said, let me ask this question. I know I’m taking a chance here, but can you guys tap?

JEFFREY BROWN: Can you guys tap?

MAURICE HINES: Now, John say, uh-huh, with all this attitude.

JEFFREY BROWN: John Manzari remembers it a bit differently.

JOHN MANZARI, “Sophisticated Ladies”: No, I didn’t mean to say it with attitude. So, here’s what happened. He — at the end of the class, he was talking to us and everything, and he was just like, can you tap? And I was like, yes, I can tap. But he didn’t believe me. And he just kept asking me. He was like, are you sure you can tap? I was like, yes, I can tap. Finally, like, the fifth time, I was like, yes, I can tap.

JEFFREY BROWN: And, yes, 17-year-old John and 15-year-old Leo can tap.

MAURICE HINES: They came, and they tapped for me, and I was blown away. I looked up, I saw my brother, and he’s looking: I told you. I told you, you would find them.

And I did. And they are — and they sing. They are monumental, is what I said. They’re — they’re fabulous.

JEFFREY BROWN: But what do they have? I mean, what does a good tap dancer have to have?

MAURICE HINES: Well, first of all, they have great feet. You have got to have that. And they dance like musicians, like a drummer. So, they know all the syncopations. And they make stuff up. They’re innovative.

And they’re improvisational. And that’s what my brother was. And so they can do anything that I want them to do — anything. And, also, they have the — the one thing, they love dancing together, like Greg and I did. And they have the one thing that you’re either born. You cannot make it. You cannot hype it up. Either you have charisma or you don’t. And they have it. Gregory and I had it. They have it.

JEFFREY BROWN: As youngsters, the Manzari brothers actually watched the Hines brothers dance on “Sesame Street” and themselves began dancing at an early age, encouraged by their single mom, and older sister, now a dance instructor.

JEFFREY BROWN: On the Lincoln Theatre stage, they showed us some brotherly trading, tap’s tradition of give-and-take improvisation.

JOHN MANZARI: If he does a step, then I can connect to that step and make another step, or do the same step, and — and just communicate through that. So, it’s more of a communication and a connection that makes it fun.

LEO MANZARI, “Sophisticated Ladies”: If you feel the rhythm and timing, you don’t necessarily think of a step. It’s — I look at it as you just go, like, you just do your thing. You get out there. And it’s cool because it’s — it’s cool to see what you can come up with without thinking about anything.

JEFFREY BROWN: In “Sophisticated Ladies,” the brothers trade with the master, Maurice Hines, in a kind of duel of oneupmanship.

LEO MANZARI: But the humor is competitive (INAUDIBLE) to make the crowd laugh and us laugh. And when we laugh on stage, it’s not fake at all. It’s because Maurice is really — Mr. Hines is really easy and fun to work with.

JOHN MANZARI: Mr. Hines is just hilarious by nature. He does a step, and it’s like, oh, OK, I kind of that, but I can twist it up and make it better and throw it back in your face.

JEFFREY BROWN: Make it better than Maurice Hines, huh?

JOHN MANZARI: Attempt to make it better.

JEFFREY BROWN: Maurice Hines believes the Manzari brothers have a very bright future.

As to his own future, he’s as busy as ever choreographing new works for the stage, including one on the life of Sammy Davis Jr. For now, though, he’s happy to star in a show that continues to pack the house and has been extended several times.

MAURICE HINES: I love the way I’m accepted here, and their arms are open to me: What have you got now, Maurice? Let’s see it.

And that’s what a performer wants to do.

JEFFREY BROWN: The hope is that, when “Sophisticated Ladies” does finally finish its Washington, D.C. run, it will begin a two-year tour.