The world premiere of Cool Papa’s Party, a new musical written and directed by Thomas W. Jones II, begins exclusively at MetroStage in Alexandria. Tony award-nominated Maurice Hines is the choreographer for this production. It chronicles the life and times of singer/performer Cool Papa and follows him from the start of his career in the 1920s to the present day. In the spirit of musical greats like Sammy Davis, Jr. and Nat King Cole, Cool Papa’s Party takes you through the travels and travails that come with magnanimous fame.
And, as any artist can attest, great fame comes with a hefty dose of hard work. Practice and rehearsal are imperative, even for the Cool Papa’s Party cast.
On a cold winter night in January, Hines arrives at MetroStage for rehearsal. He is dressed head to toe in basic black, accentuating his tall, slender dancer’s physique. On the stage, amid risers, props, and others rehearsing their lines, four performers work on their dance routines. Hines looks at them intently, even listening as they perform, not to the music per se. But to the movement of their feet. Hines’s choreography is the ultimate conversation, each sound an utterance in a complex dialogue in taps, sways, and glances. Hines looks over the dancers with a critical eye.
During a rehearsal break, Hines leads several actresses in a run through of a dance. Five, six, seven, eight, the music starts. Hines demonstrates his choreography. In a small space near the door of the MetroStage lobby, the women work repeatedly, practicing the seemingly effortless subtleties of Hines’s footwork and hands.
It has been years since Hines has had to rehearse in a lobby, but he looks upon the time with fondness. He recalls jokingly that it was how he began his career.
At the age of five, Hines starred in a musical act called The Hines Kids alongside his brother Gregory Hines, a prolific dancer in his own right. In the early days, they performed in such halls as the legendary Apollo Theater in New York. As the youths grew older, the duo became known as The Brothers. Then with the addition of their father, Maurice Hines, Sr., on drums, the Hines duo quickly became the trio called Hines, Hines, and Dad. Well into the 1960s, the three Hines’ performed on some of the most popular venues and television shows of the modern era, including Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show and The Ed Sullivan Show.
Having always been part of the stage and theater from such a young age, Hines soon developed into a notable performer on Broadway after the tense breakup of Hines, Hines, and Dad. Venturing out on his own, Hines received a coveted nomination for best actor in the musical Uptown…it’s Hot. It’s a production that he not only starred in, but also wrote, choreographed, and directed. His additional honors include receipt of the Amas Theater’s Rosie Award for his accomplishments and dedication to the craft of theater.
Today, Hines is still performing in addition to writing his own work, teaching at the Ballet Tap dance school in New York—-which he founded—-and coordinating the artistic direction of a new theater in Ohio. One or two upcoming television shows are also in the works with the Bravo and Ovation cable television networks. Look for Hines’s new musical Boogie Wonderland to appear at the Moulin Rouge Hotel in Las Vegas, too.
Top: Colin Hovde; from left: Roz White, Jahi Kearse, Gia Mora
Bottom: Colin Hovde; from left: Gia Mora, Jahi Kearse