Brotherly love: Hines pays tribute to tap legend

October 5, 2009

Brotherly love: Hines pays tribute to tap legend

Written by Kimberly Roberts

The Philadelphia Tribune

A Tribute to the Legends of Tap

Tony nominee Maurice Hines, brother and partner of the legendary Gregory Hines, will star in the world premiere of “Thank You Gregory, A Tribute to the Legends of Tap,” playing Oct. 6-10 at the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Pennsylvania, 3680 Walnut St.

The opening production of Dance Celebration’s 28th season titled “The Magic of Movement,” “Thank You, Gregory,” directed by Ann Marie De Angelo and written by Tony Waag, pays homage to “tap’s leading ambassador,” Gregory Hines, and the legends who preceded him, including Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, The Nicholas Brothers, Fred Astaire, Donald O’Connor, Honi Coles, Ray Bolger, John Bubbles and Gene Kelly, as well as many of today’s talented tap dancers. The production will feature a live band and multimedia projections showing historic hoofers doing what they did best.

However, the biggest coup of the show was the addition of Maurice Hines to an already stellar cast. I recently had the opportunity to speak to Hines, who was in Columbus, Ohio, with BalletMet, choreographing “Wonderful,” a ballet based on the music of Stevie Wonder. My personal passion for tap dancing, along with Hines’ effervescent personality and entertaining anecdotes, made this one of my most delightful interviews to date.

Hines was invited to star in “Thank You, Gregory” following a poignant performance at his younger brother’s memorial tribute held at the historic Apollo Theatre. Gregory Hines, a Tony and Emmy Award winner, died from cancer at age 57 on Aug. 9, 2003.

“My mother, of course, saved all the pictures of Gregory and I in shows and stuff, so at the very end of the memorial, I tapped with my brother’s picture and a [spotlight] next to me, as if he was dancing with me on the very first number that we ever learned when we were 5 and 7 (years old),” Maurice explained. “Gregory always said I remembered every step that we ever did. I think that’s why I became a choreographer, but I just had this good memory.

“So I did it, and Tony Waag, who was head of the tap organization, saw that, and he said, ‘Maurice, we really would love for you to tour with the show, but we know you can’t. But could you open the tour in Philadelphia?’ I said, ‘Of course I can.’ They said, ‘Could you do five days?’ and I said, ‘Yes.’ Of course he knows how much I love Philly. Philly has been very good to me and my brother. That’s how [this] came about.”

Fortunately for fans of the genre, Hines’ involvement in “Thank You, Gregory” will be more than a token appearance.

“As of now, they told me I’ll be closing the first act with this tribute to Gregory, and then I’ll do the number — because Gregory and I did ‘Sophisticated Ladies,’ at the same time, he was in Los Angeles and I was on Broadway — and I’ll do the ‘Eleven O’clock’ tap number that we both did on both coasts.”

The all-star cast, which features Chloe Arnold, Michelle Dorrance, Kendrick Jones, Dormeisha Sumbry-Edwards, Brent McBeth, Heather Holohan and Melinda Sullivan, is lead by the remarkable Jason Samuels Smith, who has Hines’ unconditional stamp of approval.

“He is a spectacular dancer!” Hines said. “He is one of the great tap dancers and one of the great choreographers. He’s won an Emmy for [the opening number] that he did on Jerry Lewis’ Muscular Dystrophy Telethon. He’s one of those exceptional tap dancers, and of course, he comes from a great dance heritage. His father Joseph Smith — one of the great choreographers of all time!”

Randy Swartz, producer of “Thank You, Gregory,” stated, “This production celebrates America’s history, diversity and creativity, as well as our energy and optimism. It is truly a dance party and everyone is invited to bring their tap shoes.”

Hines, who will be appearing in a revival of “Sophisticated Ladies” in Washington, D.C., in 2010, is particularly excited about returning to The City of Brotherly Love and said, “I’m so glad I’m doing a tribute to my brother in Philadelphia, because it was Philly that gave us the chance to renew our careers when we did ‘Eubie!’ We were supposed to go to Washington after Philly, and if we had not been a success in Philly (the producer did have the money to go to Washington, which we did not know) we would have played there and never got to Broadway, and then we would have never had the third act of our career. And we did it together. We tapped together. That’s what began it, so Philadelphia is a very special place in my heart, and when I’m on stage, not only am I saying ‘Thank you Gregory,’ I’m saying ‘Thank you Philly!’” For tickets, call the Annenberg Center box office at (215) 898.3900.