Dance Affiliates and the Annenberg Center will host an all-star tribute to the masters of tap dancing with its production of “Thank You Gregory,” named after the late, great dancer, singer and actor Gregory Hines, Oct. 6-10.
The Annenberg shows will be especially unique for the touring live music, dance and multimedia production as they will be the only shows to feature Maurice Hines, Gregory’s openly gay brother and Broadway veteran.
Both Gregory and Maurice started dancing at an early age and went on to have successful careers, together and individually, on the stage and screen as performers and choreographers, touring internationally and regularly appearing on shows like “The Tonight Show.”
Gregory died in 2003 after a battle with liver cancer.
In 2005, an early version of “Thank You, Gregory” debuted as a tribute to Hines’ career and a number of legendary tap performers that came before him.
Maurice, 66, said he was aware of the show, which was written by Tony Waag and directed by Ann Marie De Angelo. But until now, he hadn’t had the opportunity to see it or perform in it until the producers started planning an updated version.
“I knew they had done something a year ago around this,” he said. “I was in Amsterdam, at the time, choreographing. When they called me about this, because I had some free time, I said I would love to do it, especially since it honors my brother. One of the reasons why I did it was I had read an article about tap about a year or two ago. I forget what paper or what magazine it was, but they didn’t mention my brother’s name at all. I got extremely angry about it and wrote them a letter. So this opportunity came to where the tap world, including myself, could thank my brother. So it was a slam-dunk for me to do it because it fit in my schedule. I told them what I could do to fit in and they liked the idea of what I would do to pay tribute to Gregory.”
Other tap legendswho get an homage in “Thank You, Gregory” include Fred Astaire, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, John Bubbles, Gene Kelly and the Nicholas Brothers, among others.
Surprisingly enough, Sammy Davis Jr. isn’t mentioned. Davis was a huge influence on Gregory ,who, at times, seemed to follow in the versatile and legendary performer’s footsteps by excelling in the world of tap, television, movies and live performances.
Maurice was also surprised that Davis isn’t honored in the show.
“Sammy really started out as a tap dancer,” Maurice said. “Because of his versatility, they didn’t really focus on that, but he always tapped in most of his shows that I saw. He was a wonderful tap dancer with fast footwork. So I’m a little surprised at that, but I don’t even know the rundown of the show. I just know that I close the first act. I don’t know who they’re paying tribute to.”
Maurice added the kind of versatility Davis and Gregory had and strived for is missing in the younger generation of entertainers. But as a choreographer, it’s a shortcoming he’s trying to fix.
“When Gregory and I first started, he loved Sammy,” he said. “We both loved him but I was more into Nat King Cole, who I pay tribute to in my concerts. The kids today, they don’t really study long. I think it’s their attention span. Gregory and I started at 5 and 3. So Gregory studied and continued to study up until he passed away. The kids today, I find — being a choreographer myself in different genres — they want it right now. I call it the McDonald’s way of learning to dance, which is fast food. I’m a little disappointed in that. Those of us who believe in study, we’ve lost a generation. So now we’re going to the younger ones and teaching what we know. The really young ones are learning right from the beginning.”
“Thank You, Gregory: A Tribute to the Legends of Tap” runs Oct. 6-10 at Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, Zellerbach Theatre, 3680 Walnut St. For information or tickets, visit www.danceaffiliates.org or call (215) 898-3900.