"The young kids today are not getting their history," says dancer-choreographer Maurice Hines, who, while comparing Prince to James Brown at a high school seminar here last year, was startled to hear a student ask, "Who's James Brown?"
"Uptown . . . It's Hot," which opens Wednesday at the Warner Theatre for a five-day pre-Broadway run, is the "history lesson" Hines has wanted to teach for the past five years.
Directed and choreographed by Hines (with assistance by Mercedes Ellington, cofounder with Hines of Balletap, U.S.A.), the new dance/musical production traces 50 years of contributions by black artists to music and entertainment, from the legendary performances by Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Lena Horne and Billy Holliday at Harlem's Apollo Theatre and the Cotton Club, through the rock 'n' roll of Fats Domino, Little Richard and Chuck Berry, to current pop stars such as Stevie Wonder and Diana Ross.
"It hurts me that many of the pioneering black entertainers have been forgotten because these were the people who made it possible for us," says Hines, who also dances in the show.
A multimedia screen will be used for film clips that weave in and out of the musical, illustrating the entertainers and the historical period covered by the production.
The bottom line? "The audience must have a ball," says Hines. "That's what it's all about for me."