The Man in the Dancing Shoes
Gregory Hines scores big on Broadway with Jelly's Last Jam.
From the Print Edition:
Premier Issue, Autumn 92
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It was in Venice that Hines met his current wife, Pamela Koslow, who is a producer of Jelly's Last Jam. They have a son, Zachary, 9. Koslow also has a 19-year-old daughter, Jessica, from a previous marriage.
In the late 1970s, tap was beginning to make a comeback. Hines returned to New York and soon found roles in Broadway shows. And soon rediscovered the success he had known as a youth.
First there was Eubie!, a tribute to the composer Eubie Blake, choreographed by LeTang, in which Hines appeared with his brother. Then came, Comin' Uptown, a musical version of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol, set in Harlem. And finally, there was the smash hit, Sophisticated Ladies, a joyful and highly praised revue of the magic of Duke Ellington. For all three--in consecutive years from 1979 to 1981-Hines received Tony Award nominations: as featured actor in Eubie!, and as leading actor in the other two. But each time, he lost.
He then began his movie career, as an actor, first in Mel Brooks's History of the World Part I. Roles soon followed in Wolfen with Albert Finney, Deal of the Century with Chevy Chase, Francis Ford Coppola's The Cotton Club (set in the legendary Harlem supper club at which his grandmother, Ora Hines, was a dancer), White Nights with Mikhail Baryshnikov and Tap with Sammy Davis Jr., a boyhood idol.
And now, he is back on Broadway, after a decade-long absence. And he has finally won that elusive Tony, for a role that showcases his talents as an actor and a singer as well as a dancer. "Tony night was very intense," Hines recalls, "because I had lost three years in a row. I knew that I knew how to lose. I knew that if I lost again, I'd feel bad for a couple of hours, and then I'd be OK. That was the way it usually was. I recovered. I got my appetite back. I felt good about the whole nomination thing, but I remembered that every time I lost, when I heard the other person's name announced, it was like a harsh sound in my ears. It was cutting. I felt such a rush of disappointment. But this year, when I heard my own name, it was so warm. And, it felt so good. We have a tape of it, and a couple of nights ago we looked at it, and even now when I replay it, I feel the same warmth."
Soon it will he time for Hines to perform, to rise up on a platform in front of the stage, his back to the audience, his head and shoulders slumped forward, as Jelly Roll Morton, his old body "terminally inclined," prepares to relive in music and dance the joys and sadnesses of his life. There will he no hisses this day, but there will be a standing ovation, for Hines and the entire cast, at the end of the show.
Immediately after the final curtain, Hines is almost as busy as he is during the two and a half hours on-stage. First he smiles and shakes hands with the long line of well-wishers waiting outside his dressing room. And then he heads downstairs to sign 15-minutes worth of autographs for a crowd of fans standing outside the Virginia's stage door.
Finally, he is back in his dressing room, and it is time to relax. It is time to indulge in one of his favorite pastimes: a good cigar. He takes one out of a portable rosewood carrying case, gazes at it and smiles.
"I love the taste," he says. "I love the whole ritual. Clipping off the tip. Rolling the cigar in my fingers. Looking at the wrapper. Lighting it up. The aroma. The sense that pervades my sinuses. I love that it all takes a nice long time. It really relaxes me."
Hines says he smokes many kinds of cigars. "I get some Cubans surreptitiously," he says. "But lately I've been smoking the Zino cigars. Zino Davidoff has been doing some cigars in Honduras now. He's pulling all his stuff out of Cuba. I have a lot of respect for his artistry in terms of cigar making."
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