- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 23, 2006

One thing you will not see in the new Broadway-bound musical “Hot Feet”: tap dancing.

“Tell the people I am tapped out,” said an ebullient Maurice Hines during a phone interview from New York, where the director-choreographer was in rehearsals for “Hot Feet,” which plays at Washington’s National Theatre through April 9 and features the music of Earth, Wind & Fire founder and frontman Maurice White.

The show is described as an update of the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale “The Red Shoes,” about an enchanted pair of ballet slippers, and the subsequent 1948 Michael Powell movie of the same name. How the creators will reconcile ballet and “Boogie Wonderland” is anybody’s guess.

Mr. Hines, brother and former dance partner of the late, great hoofer Gregory Hines, has shuffled off his last buffalo. “In 2000, I was doing it 12 times a week in Vegas, and I started getting injuries,” he said. “The thing about tapping is that you are always in a plie, which is hard on the knees and the back. I don’t know how tappers like Savion Glover do it — they tap and bang right into the floor.”

And without his brother, tap became just noise. “Once Gregory passed away [in 2003], I haven’t tapped a step,” he said. “I did a concert in Omaha, and I lost it. I don’t love it anymore. I haven’t had the heart.”

Mr. Hines may have hung up his signature white tap shoes — which his mother placed next to his bronzed baby shoes — but he hasn’t lost the beat. “‘Hot Feet’ is dance-driven — there’s jazz, ballet, hip-hop, Broadway style — we even begin the show with [hip-hop] krumping,” he said of the 18-song musical that includes six new compositions by Mr. White. “What is strange about my collaboration with Maurice White is that I’ve been using ‘September’ as my audition song for the past 10 years — no matter if the show is period or contemporary I was up there boogieing to ‘September.’”

He is eager to point out that unlike other dance shows, such as “Movin’ Out” and “Contact,” “Hot Feet” is not a jukebox musical. “Maurice White said to me ‘I don’t want just a bunch of people dancing to a string of my hits. I want to write character. I want to write narrative.’ So it’s a contemporary take on ‘The Red Shoes,’ where a young girl named Kalimba gets caught up in celebrity and it kills her. It is kind of a dark story, but there’s a happy ending to it.” (Unlike the original Andersen tale, in which the girl begs a woodsman to cut off her feet so she will stop dancing.)

A former Alvin Ailey dancer, 19-year-old Vivian Nixon (“she’s gorgeous, like a gazelle,” Mr. Hines noted), will play Kalimba. She will be joined by stage veterans Keith David and Ann Duquesnay, who last performed in Washington in a revival of the Arthur Laurents musical “Hallelujah, Baby!” at Arena Stage in 2005.

Mr. Hines is also an alum of Arena. He played an amorous and playful Nathan Detroit in director Charles Randolph-Wright’s ethnically diverse restaging of Frank Loesser’s classic “Guys and Dolls,” a local smash in 2000 that went on to a successful national tour.

“I love Washington, and I have a long history there, even before ‘Guys and Dolls,’” he said. “I was looking at my late mother’s scrapbook the other day, and there was a photo of me and Gregory at Griffith Stadium — we tapped on a stage they placed over second base.”

Mr. Hines performed with his brother and father — who made up the dance and music group Hines, Hines, and Dad — throughout Washington, including the Howard Theatre, Ford’s, and the Warner. “I’ve been in every theater but the National,” he noted. “I come from a nightclub background so I am not esoteric or snobby, and I think D.C. audiences appreciate that about me.”

Hines, Hines and Dad broke up in 1973, forcing Mr. Hines to stand on his own two tap shoes at the tender age of 30 after being part of the act since he was 5. “Gregory was always the gorgeous one, and when we broke up the act I weighed 225 pounds and had to redesign my body so I could dance and support myself. Now at 62, I am not only my own man, but my own person.”

He’s done well for himself, possessing a dancer’s sinewy body and a style he describes as “more balletic than my brother, who was more of a hoofer.” The two brothers did reunite for Francis Ford Coppola’s movie “The Cotton Club,” in which they executed a gravity-defying tribute to the venerated tappers Fayard and Harold Nicholas, known as The Nicholas Brothers. “In the afterlife, I’d like to think I’ll be tapping with my brother, Fayard, and Harold,” says Mr. Hines.

Throughout the years, Mr. Hines has danced onstage in such shows as “Eubie!,” “Uptown — It’s Hot,” “Sophisticated Ladies,” and performed behind-the-scenes choreography duties for the Rockettes, “Harlem Suite,” and “Satchmo.”

When Mr. Hines was performing in “Jelly’s Last Jam” at the Warner (in the starring role his brother originated on Broadway, which won him a Tony), women in the audience yelled out, “Tap, Maurice. Give it to Mama.” “I hope audiences respond like that to ‘Hot Feet,’ even though it won’t be me up there,” Mr. Hines said. “But it will be my dances.”

“Hot Feet” plays at the National Theatre through April 9. Tickets are priced $41.25 to $81.25 and are available through Telecharge at 800/447-7400 or online at www.telecharge.com.

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