From Earth, Wind & Fire to 'Hot Feet'

A new musical on Broadway called Hot Feet is a collaboration between musician Maurice White of the R&B group Earth, Wind and Fire and choreographer Maurice Hines. Ed Gordon talks with White and Hines about the venture.

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ED GORDON, host:

If you're a fan of Earth, Wind & Fire, you may want to pay a visit to New York City. There's a new musical on Broadway called Hot Feet, a dance extravaganza set to the group's greatest hits. It's the latest labor of love from musician Maurice White and tap dance choreographer, Maurice Hines. I recently spoke with both men about the venture. Mr. Hines described how he first connected with the group's legendary front man, Maurice White.

Mr. MAURICE HINES (Director, Choreographer, Hot Feet): Well, what happened was, we had mutual agents at the William Morris Agency, and they sort of put us together to make a long story short. But it never occurred to me that I would ever get a chance to meet this fabulous genius.

I had been auditioning dancers for various shows; I've been choreographing and always used September for 10 years. And when I got the chance to meet him and go out to California, I was thrilled! And when he walked in the room, of course, you go into the Earth, Wind & Fire building, you know…

GORDON: Mm-hmm.

Mr. HINES: …fire. There he is, and you hear those songs when you see him; you hear Boogie Wonderland and you hear Fantasy. And so when I told him the nature of the show I wanted to do, he said, I'll tell you what. I love the idea, I don't want no fluff show and I want to write some new music, too. And I was amenable to that.

(Soundbite of song "September")

EARTH, WIND & FIRE: (Singing) Ba-de-yah, say do you remember. Ba-de-yah, dancing in September. Ba-de-yah, never was a cloudy day.

GORDON: When you hear Earth, Wind & Fire and their music, as a dancer, what is special about that music?

Mr. HINES: Well, I don't like to do one style. I look for versatility in the music and in the composer. And once I got the compilation, Eternal Dance, when I heard everything this man has written, I was so inspired, choreographically, that it took me places that I never knew I could go.

GORDON: Maurice White, we've talked about the idea that there's new music in this play, as well. Was there anything difficult about trying to create a new music that fit in with what we already know so well and also to carry along with the storyline?

Mr. MAURICE WHITE (Musician, Earth, Wind & Fire; Composer, Hot Feet): Well, I was inspired by the storyline, by the script and it created new music for me. I heard chords and different notes as a result of reading the script.

GORDON: Do you create that music differently, now that you know that it has to go along with a choreographed number? I suspect there's that in your mind as you're creating it.

Mr. WHITE: Well, the music is inspired from different incidents, different things that happened in the play. And the way the script is written, it inspires, like - certain chords and certain notes just come to mind.

GORDON: Maurice Hines, give us a thumbnail, if you will, the story of Hot Feet. And also, talk to us, for those of us who can remember and know you from Hines Hines and Dad, the idea that this love of dance - I would suspect that you have a special affinity to this story.

Mr. HINES: Well, yes, because it's about a young girl who wants to be a dancer and use her talent to get out of the situation she thinks her and her mother are in, which is, her mother is a working mother. And I remember when my mother had two jobs and my father was working real hard so that Gregory and I could take our tap classes and take our singing classes and all that, and how much they struggled for that. And that's what this is about.

And, in this story, because it has a little dark edge to it, which I don't want to give away, we find out that fame can also be dangerous. I think what the audience is connecting to it is that it's really a story of hope and love.

We had a 91-year-old woman come to D.C., baby; she said, I love this Boogie-land show, I love this show. I said, you do? And she said, Yes, I'm coming back next week with my girlfriend. I said, how old is she? She said, 85.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HINES: So to see that and the young kids connect, we really feel we've done our job.

GORDON: Maurice Hines, is it easier or more difficult to try to choreograph to music something that is so well known? Because often, when you just hear that music, it's so infectious you kind of get into it yourself do your own moves. So, it is easier or harder to do it that way?

Mr. HINES: Well, it was easier for me, because I had a love of the music and I idolized the music. And I didn't want to change it and make it Broadway-ish -to put breaks in there where it shouldn't be, because the audience is coming to hear it. So these songs, and the music that Maurice has written, are the stars of the show. That's the star of the show. Whatever happens after the audience comes in there, if they like my choreography or different artists, that's different. But they're coming in to hear that music and it must be respected.

(Soundbite of song "Boogie Wonderland”)

EARTH, WIND & FIRE: (Singing) The mirror stares you in the face and says, Baby uh uh, it don't work.

BACKUP SINGERS: (Singing) You say your prayers, though you don't care…

EARTH, WIND & FIRE: (Singing) You dance and shake the hurt.

BACKUP SINGERS: (Singing) Dance, boogie wonderland…

Mr. HINES: And because his music is very danceable and he has breaks and accents in there, it was very easy for me.

GORDON: Maurice White, we have seen over the last year so many people saluting Earth, Wind & Fire, rightfully so. I asked the fellas when they were here -let me put the question to you: Could you have imagined the real endearing nature of this music and how loved it would be 20, 30 years later?

Mr. WHITE: No, I had no idea. It's really something that the music has stayed alive all these years and is still seeking out new ground.

GORDON: Mm-hmm.

Mr. HINES: At the end, we play Shining Star for the bow and the audience sings along. And they sing, Shining star for you to see, what your love can truly be. They're out there singing and I'm like thrilled!

(Soundbite of song "Shining Star")

Earth, Wind & Fire: (Singing) Shining star for you to see, what your life can truly be. Shining star for you to see, what your life can truly be.

Mr. WHITE: Yeah, it's incredible.

Mr. HINES: It's incredible!

GORDON: We often use this as a cliché, but this music really is the soundtrack to so many people's lives.

Mr. HINES: Oh, yeah.

Mr. WHITE: That's right.

Mr. HINES: And they come up to him and they say how moved they were and that his music has taken them through their lives - through high school, college, marriages, divorces. It was quite amazing. I was very touched by it.

GORDON: Maurice White, I'd be remiss before we let you go to just ask you how you're feeling?

Mr. WHITE: I'm feeling fine.

Mr. HINES: And he's looking fine, too, Ed.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HINES: Got that Versace stuff on. You know he don't play.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GORDON: That's good to know. Well, Maurice and Maurice, we greatly appreciate the time. The play is Hot Feet at the Hilton Theater and buttressed by the great music of Earth, Wind & Fire and the catalyst behind that, Maurice White. Gentlemen, thank you so much.

Mr. HINES: Thanks so much, Mr. Gordon.

Mr. WHITE: Thank you.

(Soundbite of song "Let's Groove")

EARTH, WIND & FIRE: (Singing) Groove that boogie down, down, down. We're gonna groove that boogie down, down, down. We're gonna groove that boogie down, down, down. Let's groove tonight. Share the spice of life. Baby, slice it right. We're gonna groove tonight.

GORDON: That's our program for today. Thanks for joining us. To listen to the show, visit npr.org. And if you'd like to comment, call us at 202-408-3330. That's 202-408-3330.

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