Five Guys Named Moe
Reviewed by Deborah Klugman
Nate Holden Center for the Performing Arts
Through June 11
Five Guys Named Moe celebrates the music of pioneering jazz musician Louis Jordan, a crossover artist whose swinging soulful music was popular with both black and white audiences from the late 1930s to the early ‘50s. The show premiered on Broadway in 1992 (ironically, this very American musical first opened in London in 1990) and is receiving a 25th anniversary revival at the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center, under the direction of Keith Young. It’s a polished production executed by a spirited ensemble, with harmonious vocals and nimble footwork with a comic flair.
The fly in the ointment is the paper-thin book (Clarke Peters). It tells the story of a musician named Nomax (Obba Babatunde) who has women problems of his own making, which he mishandles by drinking heavily. In the first scene, five guys, all named Moe (Jacques S. Smith, Octavius Womack, Trevon Davis, Rogelio Douglas, Jr. and Eric B. Anthony), leap from Nomax’s radio, their aim being to get Nomax to see the error of his ways —that is, to stop drinking and start treating the women whose trust he’s abused with the caring and respect they deserve.
Nomax proves a tough case, and well into the second act he’s still chugging it down and staggering around the stage and feeling sorry for himself. You’d be frustrated if you were engaged in the character’s fate, but Peters’s book never provides you with that opportunity.
On the other hand, if you’re happy just to sit back and appreciate Jordan’s music — I counted 22 numbers including “Let the Good Times Roll,” “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying” and “I Like ‘Em Fat Like That,” you’ll enjoy yourself. The dancing in particular (choreography by Young and Dominque Kelley) is fun to watch and well done. Music direction is by Abdul Hamid Royal and Dan Weingarten designed the snazzy lighting.
Nate Holden Center for the Performing Arts, Washington Avenue, L.A. 4718 West Washinton Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sat., 2 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through June 11. ebonyrep.org or (323) 964-9766. Running time: two hours with an intermission.