A Band of Sisters: DIVA big band backs stage legend’s acclaimed show

A Band of Sisters: DIVA big band backs stage legend’s acclaimed show

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Broadway and tap-dance legend Maurice Hines is set to take audiences on a trip though his incredible career in show business with “Tappin’ Thru Life.” The show pays tribute to his brother, Gregory, and features music from the shows and artists who inspired them over the course of their careers, from Frank Sinatra to Lena Horne.

The music for the song and dance extravaganza is being performed by Sherrie Maricle & The DIVA Jazz Orchestra, an all-female big band that performs in prestigious venues and festivals all over the world.

“It centers on the story of Maurice Hines and his brother, Gregory, and their history in show business from when they were ages 3 and 5,” said Maricle, the out drummer and band leader for the DIVA Jazz Orchestra. “It’s somewhat chronological but it has a couple of flashbacks here and there. It tells the story of their experiences. They had an act with their dad that was really popular through the 1960s and 1970s. It basically follows them through their careers dealing with the issues of being in show business and the racism they experience through the Las Vegas years. It is told through music similar to that classic Vegas era of the Rat Pack. It’s very much that kind of sensibility in the show.”

Maricle said that performing a show overflowing in familiar jazz and show-tune standards is somewhat of a departure from the concerts the DIVA Jazz Orchestra performs on its own.

“When the DIVA Jazz Orchestra performs in concert, we do all of our own repertoire, exclusively written for us, whether it be an arrangement or an original composition,” she said. “This show is all the great jazz standards, from Duke Ellington to show tunes from ‘Sophisticated Ladies’ and ‘Guys and Dolls.’ Of course, Maurice dances throughout the show, as do the amazing Manzari Brothers. They are phenoms of tap dancing and they are reflective of how Maurice and Gregory were in their youth.”

As an all-female big band, one could say that the DIVA Jazz Orchestra members can relate to the experiences of discrimination Hines talks about in the stories he tells on stage. Maricle said there are similarities in their experiences but added that isn’t why the orchestra was chosen for this show. 

“There are definitely parallels throughout our career,” she said. “The band is coming up on 24 years of touring and being together, and I can say as early as last week, when we were playing at a major jazz festival in upstate New York, we had some strange issues just because we were women — until, of course, we started playing and then everything is forgiven. But there’s always this initial, ‘Oh, you can’t be this or that because you’re just women.’ The band is extraordinary and the reason we’re in this show is because I’ve been working with Maurice since 1990. That’s why we work together in the show.”

Younger generations might not know that big-band and jazz-music musicians were the pop icons and rock stars of their day. Maricle said that, even with all the artifice kids are exposed to in music today — in an age when pop is now dominated by dance music, computers and electronics — they are still impressed when they are exposed to DIVA Jazz Orchestra shows.

“In this show, when we’ve been touring and do matinee shows, if someone brings a classroom full of kids, their jaws drop because they aren’t used to seeing anything unplugged or a completely acoustic performance without any bells and whistles,” she said. “It’s just genuine and amazing talent. And Maurice Hines is one of the few people left in show business who still does that. He’s 73 years old and he grew up in an era where if you were on stage with a microphone, you were expected to be great. The same goes for members of my band. Our mission is to be on stage and be genuine entertainers from a purely human and creative perspective without the special effects or pitch correction that pop performers use today. This is not fake. It is all real and every performance in slightly different because Maurice improvises a lot and the band solos are certainly different every night. It’s one of those very unique things.”

The run of area performances of “Tappin’ Thru Life” gives Maricle the opportunity to spend a few weeks close to home in Philly. Soon the orchestra will be back on the road touring nationally and internationally. Maricle said the group’s shared history, creativity and camaraderie help to make the constant traveling and performing easier. 

“The lead trumpet player, Lisa Whittaker, and I are the original members from 1992. Many other members have been with us over 15 years — 10 of the 15 players. In ‘Tappin’ Through Life’ we’re using nine players but usually we’re 15 players. We’ve had a lot of longevity, which is great because that helps solidify the sound and style of the band when you have the same players all the time. The whole band, we’re all really good friends so having your friends with you is always fabulous,” she said. “We practice all different kinds of music. So doing fresh kinds of music that isn’t related to the show is great. You have a lot of time during the day when you’re on the road; we go to science-fiction movies together.”

“Maurice Hines’ Tappin’ Thru Life” make its Philadelphia premiere through Nov. 20 at Penn’s Landing Playhouse, 211 S. Columbus Blvd. For more information or tickets, visit www.plplayhouse.com or www.divajazz.com.


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