As a young boy dancing alongside his brother, Gregory, at Harlem's famed Apollo Theater in the '50s, Maurice Hines mingled with show business royalty while gaining a work ethic that would serve him well throughout his career in stage, film and TV. "We learned from the best, and I wanted to honor them," says the 70-year-old Hines from Atlanta, during a break from Tappin' Thru Life, which travels to the Cleveland Play House May 30 through June 29. Written by Hines, the biographical show is parts Vegas and Broadway. Hines sings and dances to numbers by showbiz greats, including Frank Sinatra and Stephen Stills, while accompanied by vintage photos of his career and a new generation of tap dancers — John and Leo Manzari. We talk with the personable Hines about famous friends, family and staying power.
ON EARLY INFLUENCES "Lena Horne was the greatest I've ever seen. She once told me, 'You got it.' I didn't know what 'it' was, and I still don't. [Laughs.] As soon as Harry Belafonte walked on a stage, he had the audience in his hand. I would watch TV backstage with Ella Fitzgerald, who sang 30 songs every night. Working with Judy Garland was thrilling. They are all part of who I am as a performer."
ON HIS BROTHER "A few years ago, I was reading a dance magazine that did a story on tap but didn't mention my [late] brother. How soon they forget. He was one of the greatest tappers ever. Gregory could learn steps just by looking at them. In [Tappin' Thru Life], I do the first soft shoe routine we ever learned, and I do it as if he's standing next to me. I can feel his presence."
ON PERFORMING "People who come to this show know right away they are going to have a good time. I don't have to warm them up. We touch every emotion, there is laughing and crying."
ON HIS LONGEVITY "When I performed with my brother and father, we did The Tonight Show 37 times while Johnny Carson was in New York. After Gregory and I did The Cotton Club, Francis Coppola wanted me to do another movie. Gregory loved movies, but I'm a theater animal. I'm used to eight shows a week. I never really think of age at all. I'm having a good time."