Who can resist the youthful, sensuous, energy of five high-stepping, superfine dudes who can sing and dance? “Jump blues” back to the rockin’ days of guys and dolls for an entertaining evening of sexy, boy-band eye candy and infectious high energy in the Arena Stage’s Five Guys Named Moe. A dynamic high-five to the “King of the Jukebox”, Louis “Louie” Jordan, Five Guys Named Moe is a knockout contemporary re-imagine of the Big Band era under the direction of Helen Hayes Award-winning director, Robert O’ Hara. It pumps a new beat into yesteryear grooves in a hand-clapping, foot stomping, conga line dancing, “jumpin’ jive” musical fantasy come-true.
The music of pioneering musician, songwriter and bandleader from the 1940s and 50s, Louis Jordan, gets a modern-day upswing in Robert O’Hara’s funky spin on Five Guys Named Moe. Under the musical direction of Darryl G. Ivey, the original play written by Clark Peters is a new orchestration for a new generation to enjoy the music of Louis Jordan in our times and on our terms. Decked out in Costumer Dede Ayite’s sharkskin tuxes and bow ties, these Moes are vying to make your evening as much fun as you’ve ever had in the theater.
Louis Jordan was right up there with Duke Ellington and Count Basie as one of the most successful bandleaders of his day. He played the sax, piano, danced, entertained and sang along-side luminaries like Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong and Bing Crosby. Jordan was also one of the first African American musicians who popularly appealed over the radio waves and onstage to crossover audiences with his dance tuned, swing tempo jazz, blues and boogie woogie. He is credited with creating the musical genre, its sound and beat that presaged today’s R&B, rock and roll and even hip hop. Rolling Stone magazine ranked Louis Jordan as of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.
Five Guys Named Moe perfectly captures the versatility and charisma of the multi-talented musician and entertainer, Louis Jordan, in the dynamic performances of Sheldon Henry (Big Moe; Kevin McAllister (Nomax); Paris Nix (Eat Moe); Jobari Parker-Namdar (No Moe), Travis Porchia (Four-Eyed Moe); and Clinton Roane (Little Moe).
Imagine waking up from a bad dream about losing your girl to five super bad guys primed to wipe your blues away in a singing and dancing fantasy. The light but entertaining storyline of Five Guys Named Moe takes you through Nomax’ boozy misery of getting dumped by his girl as he laments in a drunken stupor about love gone bad. With sage advice from the winning five-some, Nomax learns how to win at love and have a blast at the same time to the music of Louis Jordan.
Opening images by Projection Designer Jeff Sugg of the backstreets and cold water walk-ups of city life carry you back to a time and place of the blues although though the moment is 2014. Nomax’ (Kevin McAllister) strong, first-scene rendition of “Early in the Morning” kick starts this show’s high energy and immediately draws you into its fun-filled reverie. The title song, “Five Guys Named Moe” goes back to the early 1940s and is a headlight marker for Louis Jordan’s distinctive R&B style. All five Moes are onstage for this second number and we are immediately lit up by the personality and the singing/dancing talent of this terrific ensemble.
“Knock Me a Kiss” was a jukebox hit back in its day, but the winsome quintet gives it a spin that raises the swing style of Louis Jordan to a newer, more contemporary level. “Safe, Sane and Single” got big laughs from the audience as the Moes advise Nomax on the perils and virtues of the single life and draw the audience into the conversation in a rollicking call and response. The Moes share the energy and the spotlight in the last musical number of the first act, “Push Ka Pi Shi Pie,” a calypso rock, as they walk out into the audience and bring five lovely ladies onstage to dance their blues way in a rousing conga line, shimmy shaking close to the first act. The five Moes really connect with the audience in this show and work overtime to make sure you are having a great time.
The sophisticated sound and presence of an onstage house band of six musicians open the second act with an “Entr’acte/Push Ka Pi She Pie) reprise. “Saturday Night Fish Fry,” is a contender for the title of “First rock and roll record”, and a spotlight for Little Moe (Clinton Roane) who knocks it out the park and then takes us to church in his preacher-style rendition of this Louis Jordan hit.
Big Moe and Nomax slide us down memory lane in a comical performance of “What’s the Use of Getting Sober (When You’re Gonna Get Drunk Again)”, Louis Jordan’s first No.1 hit from 1942. They pair it up with “If I Had Any Sense I’d Go Back Home” in a humorous drunk and drunker rendition a la Dean Martin.
“Caldonia” was one of Louis Jordan’s biggest sellers and Big Moe takes center stage leading the audience right into the raucous punchline, “What makes your big head so hard?” Four-Eyed Moe (Travis Porchia) delightfully struts his stuff alongside No Moe (Jobari Parker-Namdar) as he belts out the comical “Ain’t Nobody Here but Us Chickens” complete with Donald Duck voice and funky chicken dance moves in the Funky Butt Night Club.
And who knew that Louis Jordan’s jumpin’ jive “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying” would be the inspiration across the pond for one of the most beloved ballads? Eat Moe’s (Paris Nix) version was slick and high-kicked with split-your-pants dance moves sung with a voice that chills the spine. Paris Nix is a fantastic song and dance man and perhaps the strongest dancer of the Moes. Choo Choo Ch’Boogie was another multi-million dollar bestseller and Little Moe carries it in a boisterous scat. All the Moes and Nomax sing and dance us toward the syncopated harmonies of the smash finale with the well-known “Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby”, a GI Joe No.1 hit single from the late 40s.
The set design by Clint Ramos for Five Guys Named Moe is pure glitzy glam with a double staircase that lights up in Technicolor. If you saw “Tapping through Life” with Maurice Hines last year, you are looking at an update of that set replaced by “Moe” in shiny lights. The choreography by Byron Easley in Five Guys Named Moe has enough deep pelvic thrusts to make Bob Fosse do a double take and Michael Jackson’s look tame. These guys can dance. Tapping while rapping is a different kind of groove and the acrobatic back flips and floor spits a la James Brown are marvelous. The choreography is modern dance floor with enough blowtorch glow to light up Broadway.
Five Guys Named Moe takes you to the heights in one hour and 30 minutes. It’s a production that feels short on time but full-tilt in dynamism. The first act barrels through 10 of Jordan’s famous tunes in about 40 minutes and leaves you wanting more. The guys fill out the second act, however, with 15 more hits that make up for what felt like a too-brief opening act.
Come to be entertained. Five Guys Named Moe aims to please and is hell bent on making you have a good time. With explosive good energy and exuberant high style, Five Guys Named Moe lets the good times roll.
Running Time: 90 minutes, and one 10-minute intermission.
Five Guys Named Moe plays through December 28, 2014 at Arena Stage at The Mead Center for American Theater – 1101 6th St SW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 488-3300, or purchase them online.
Louis Jordan’s website.