Maurice Hines Is Tappin’ Thru Life Written and choreographed by Maurice Hines
Directed by Jeff Calhoun
Co-produced by Alliance Theatre at the Woodruff and Cleveland Play House
At Arena Stage to Dec. 29
An agreeable musical nostalgia trip—but is it theater?

Hop, Shuffle, Schlep: Hines’ tap-heavy revue pays the bills.

Maurice Hines is a showman, a smooth operator, and he’s made a career out of moving stylishly through touchstone shows like Sophisticated Ladies and Guys and Dolls. He’s not doing anything revolutionary in the fond family memoir Maurice Hines Is Tappin’ Thru Life—and it’s a pretty solid stretch to call it an exercise in theater—but as a music-fueled stroll down memory lane, the show’s plenty agreeable.

Chief among its assets, aside from the gregarious personality at its core: the rambunctious Diva Jazz Orchestra, an all-woman ensemble that makes a righteous noise behind, under, and around Hines’ coolly sassy vocals—and, often enough, on its own. The setlist covers standards from “Luck Be a Lady” (of course) to “Come Fly With Me,” swerving occasionally into slightly rougher-edged fare like “Every Day I Have the Blues.” And the songs are loosely (verrrrrry loosely) strung together with brief, brisk patter that looks back—cheerfully, with one notable exception Hines uses to set up Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile”—on a life lived in some pretty good company.

For years, in a family act with his brother Gregory and their father, the young Maurice performed with Ella and Lena, Judy and Frank, and he’s got a snippet of a story to share about each one. They’re mostly upbeat and mostly tissue-thin, but then this isn’t meant to be a searching self-portrait. It’s a lounge act, basically, complete with hey-here’s-a-treat-for-you guest turns from the Manzari Brothers—two prodigiously talented D.C.-based performers Hines discovered for an Arena Stage show a few years back—and another, even younger pair of tap-dancing firecrackers, Max and Sam Heimowitz.

So enjoy, and think of that top ticket—currently $114—as your contribution to Arena’s coffers. With any luck, they’ll get back to doing theater after the holidays.

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