Even for a dancer, Maurice Hines is a jumpy guy. Hines plays Nathan Detroit in the raucous "Guys and Dolls" playing through this weekend at Shea's Performing Arts Center. And he isn't afraid of rocking the boat.
A recent phone call to Philadelphia, where "Guys and Dolls" was set to open momentarily, catches Hines bouncing off the walls. "It's not a revival. It's a reinvention!" he all but shouts.
This "Guys and Dolls," he confides, takes a few new gambles.
It's racially diverse, for one thing. Furthermore, Hines points out, it's powered by young, forward-thinking artists. "The director is Charles Randolph-Wright, the choreographer is Ken Roberson, the costume designer is Paul Caswell. They are all very young African-American little geniuses," he beams. "Sometimes a reverence for material stops you from trying things. Because they didn't see the original, they went at it with a fresh eye."
Finally, because Hines is in the production, it's one fast-paced show.
"I'm a dancer. I come with a lot of movement," Hines declares. "I said, this has to be a version for today. We can't change the dialogue, we can't change the book, but we have to change the pacing. I'm very hyper!" he explains.
As if he had to point that out.
Even on the phone, this man is like a tornado. He answers the phone enthusiastically, with joy. "Hey!" he shouts. "Yes!" Everything he says comes out in boldface.
Hines confesses, unprompted, that he loves Buffalo. "I was there five years ago, in 'Jelly's Last Jam,'" he points out. "And I know there's great talent there, but when I did it with "Jelly' it was the middle of winter. And the people, they didn't let it stop them at all! I was hysterical! I was amazed!"
The snowy, joyful experience is the reason, Hines says, that he insisted our city be included on the "Guys and Dolls" tour. "I told my agent, "I don't know how these things are done, but I have to go back to Buffalo.' "
"Hi! I'm Judy Garland!'
Buffalo is only the third stop on the tour. Already, though, the show has been praised effusively by the Washington Post and the Baltimore Sun. Hines exults that the new faster pace has bowled people over - and not all of them are young MTV watchers.
"I have a lot of fans, and a lot of them are older women," he says. "They had seen the original, and they're 80 years old, some of them. I said, "What is it about the show you like?' One said: "Because we know you're a dancer. I'm 80 years old, I don't want nothing moving slow!' " Hines guffaws, appreciatively. "I love women!" he says. "They tell you the truth."
One older woman who loved Hines' performance was Jo Loesser, Frank Loesser's widow.
"She said, "You're the best Nathan Detroit since Sam Levine,' " Hines repeats with awe. "I said, "Miss Loesser, why?' She said: "You made him sexy. No one thought of him as sexy.' "
He pauses. "I said: "It's really not up to me. The young lady who plays Adelaide,' " he says, referring to Alexandra Foucard, " "how can I not be sexy with that? I don't have a choice!' " He bursts into big laughter.
If this is a faster "Guys and Dolls," it could be not only because Hines is a dancer, but because his whole life has been lived at a quicker tempo than most of us are used to.
He and his younger brother, the great Gregory Hines, grew up dancing at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem. They opened for and danced with all kinds of towering figures of show business.
It has been said that bitterness divided the Hines brothers years later when Gregory Hines went out on his own, breaking up their longstanding double act. But any rift there was appears to have healed, because Maurice Hines speaks with obvious pride and affection about his brother.
He doesn't limit himself to a brief statement, either. He refers to Gregory Hines constantly in conversation. "I haven't been in a cast this together since my brother and I did "Eubie,' " he says, casually, of "Guys and Dolls." And he rejoices, spontaneously, over his brother's awards. "He just got a nomination for an Emmy for "Bojangles,' and I'm so proud of him," he interjects at one point.
As he reminisces about his early career, he and his brother appear inseparable.
Hines tells, for instance, of the time they shared the stage with Judy Garland. Asked what shape Garland was in at that point, Hines answers, "She was in wonderful shape!"
He pauses, remembering. "She was a little under the weather the first show and didn't come until intermission. They hired us because we could be on a long time. We did a number with her. We never rehearsed with her, and she jumped up behind me and said: "Hi! I'm Judy Garland. Let's do the number!' Right in front of the audience!"
The memory clearly still thrills him. "I'll never forget it," he says. "Gregory noticed when she took a bow with us and shook our hands, there was an electricity there. He asked me if I felt it. I did. We felt the heat. There are certain people who are gifted, and she was one of them."
Hines treasures the acquaintance of all the divas he has met and worked with, including Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington and Lena Horne. They were tough women, he says. "They had to be, in that business. The only one who wasn't was Ella Fitzgerald," he muses. "But she had a manager, Norman Granz, to be tough for her."
Dinah Washington, Hines says, was "tough, mean, no doubt about it." He laughs, remembering. "She was fair, I must say that," he adds. "But she was tough, as most of these women had to be. She loved Gregory and me but took no mess from nobody."
Hines clearly regards his mentors with reverence. "Kids ask me, "What about Whitney Houston?' " he says. "I say, yes, I like Whitney Houston. But I worked with Ella Fitzgerald. There's no comparing! Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Washington, Lena Horne, Carol Channing, too, they were just remarkable women. Sammy Davis, Frank Sinatra, we'll never have that again! I don't care how good people these days are. I'm so grateful these people were around, and that I got to work with them."
He's also grateful for his family background. His first performances were with his brother and his father, Maurice Hines Sr., and Maurice Hines the younger says the three remain close.
"My father's proud of both of us," he says. "My mother passed away a year and a half ago, and we're still devastated by it because she was our rock. We're not easy guys," he says of himself and Gregory. "We're very volatile. We're tough guys, but they trained us well. We're disciplined, we have manners."
But Hines doesn't have much time to look back. As the conversation comes to a close, "Guys and Dolls" is scheduled to open in Philadelphia in a few hours. Maurice Hines Sr. has flown in from his home in Las Vegas to attend the performance. "I hear you're dancing more. I want to see you," Hines quotes the veteran hoofer as saying.
The months and years to come promise plenty of adventure.
Hines released an album recently, called "I've Never Been In Love Before" after the "Guys and Dolls" ballad. He's planning another album. Also, he can't wait to do more choreography. "I'm a choreographer," he emphasizes, adding that he likes directing the dancing even more than he likes dancing himself.
"I love being with dancers. There's so much racism in this business, but there's no racism with dancers," he says. "They just want to dance."
A traditional song-and-dance man in some senses, Hines prefers the stage to the screen. Though he made a splash with his brother in 1984's "The Cotton Club," he dislikes not only the sitting around involved in making a movie ("I'm too high strung for that") but also the editing process, which can change a performance completely.
"The performance I give to the audience is the performance I want the audience to see," he maintains. "I stay in the theater. That's where I am. I love it. My brother always laughs and tells people, "Maurice doesn't think about Hollywood.' And I don't. I turn them down for everything."
Hines has starred not only in "Jelly's Last Jam" but in such other jazzy stage productions as "Eubie!," "Sophisticated Ladies" and "Bring Back Birdie."
Currently, he's working on "Yo Alice," a hip-hop version of "Alice in Wonderland." He's also thinking of collaborating again with his brother. "They've been wanting us to do something together for years," he says of his fans. "And we may."
Anything, after all, to please the people. "I'm 58 now, I've been working a long time," Hines concludes. "But I love audiences."