Review: Five Guys Named Moe (Court Theatre)

| September 26, 2017

Kelvin Roston, Jr., Stephen Allen and James Earl Jones II star in Five Guys Named Moe, Court Theatre            
        

    

Five Guys Named Moe

Written by Clarke Peters
    with music by Louis Jordan
Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis (map)
thru Oct 15  |  tix: $44-$74  |  more info
       
Check for half-price tickets
     


    

   Now extended thru October 15

  
‘Five Guys’ looks and sounds terrific

  

Darrian Ford, Lorenzo Rush, Jr., James Earl Jones II, Kelvin Roston, Jr. and Eric A. Lewis

    
Court Theatre presents
    
Five Guys Named Moe

Review by Catey Sullivan

As a musical revue, Five Guys Named Moe is an apt celebration of Louis Jordan. The composer/performer laid down the bridge between the jazz and blues of the first half of the 20th century, and the rock and roll that defined the second half.

Lorenzo Rush, Jr., Kelvin Roston, Jr., James Earl Jones II, Eric Andrews Lewis and Darrian FordPenning a prolific output of music from the 1920s through the 1960s, his songs often superficially sounded like humorous, relatively insignificant novelty numbers (“Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens,” “I Like ‘Em Fat Like That”) or retrograde commentaries on gender and relationships (“Beware, Brother, Beware,” “Safe, Sane and Single”). But as his 1987 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame affirms, Jordan could pack plenty of social, political and historical significance into the most inane-sounding ditties.

With Five Guys Named Moe, Court Theatre gives Jordan’s music a showcase, packing more than two dozen of his infectiously rhythmic numbers into a high-energy, two-hour production. Directed by Ron OJ Parson (with crucial assistance from associate director Felicia P. Fields and bandleader/music director Abdul Hamid Royal), Five Guys is a rambunctiously pleasant evening out.

Backed by Royal’s crackerjack six-man band, the six-man cast delivers fine vocals and a whole lot of audience interaction (if your don’t want to get conscripted into a conga line, avoid the front rows). The music is interspersed with plenty of amiable humor, the guffaws often, resulting from sight gags (men prancing about in silly wigs, chicken hats and Carmen Miranda-esque tropical fruit headpieces) worthy of an Ed Sullivan variety act.

Stephen Allen, Lorenzo Rush, Jr., Darrian Ford, James Earl Jones II, Eric Andrews Lewis and Kelvin Roston, Jr.

What doesn’t work about Five Guys is Clarke Peters’ lame and wholly unnecessary attempt at shoehorning a story into the proceedings. The show opens as a depressed young man named Nomax (Stephen Blu Allen) morosely swills from a flask while listening to the downbeat blues of “Early in the Morning” on his 1940s-era radio. Nomax has women trouble (of course he does), because he’s been drinking too much, neglecting his girl and generally acting like a mopey adolescent.

But Nomax is about to get a wake up call. As the five Moes come strutting out from the inside of his radio, they announce that they’re here to help him man up, straighten up and fly right.

By the closing number, Nomax has changed for the better. His transformation is utterly predictable. It is also very thinly rendered. We don’t really see why or how Nomax changes – it’s pretty much taken on faith that singing and dancing with the Moes counsel will fix everything, giving Nomax the wherewithal to put down the flask, pick up the phone and tell his (unseen) woman he loves her. Her forgiveness is a given.

As framing devices go, this one just gets in the way of a lot of good music. Every time Nomax’s petulance surfaces, Louis Jordan’s genius gets pushed aside. The entire endeavor would far more effective if Nomax’s temperamental grousing were done away with. The best portion of the evening comes when it does just that, as the Moes give a straight-out concert at the Funky Butt Club.

What makes Five Guys pop is the music. Each of the five Moes has a singular voice and personality. Big Moe (Lorenzo Rush, Jr.) towers over the others and has a bass powerful enough to set the stage thrumming. Four-Eyed Moe (Kelvin Roston, Jr.) has an owlish intensity and a winning exuberance. Eat Moe (James Earl Jones II) contrasts goofy, food-based comedy with sublime vocals that have the power to break your heart. The quintet’s Darrien Ford (Little Moe) is no small talent: He’s got grace, vocal prowess and comic timing to spare. And as No Moe, Eric Andrews Lewis brings a blaze of infectious energy to everything he does. When the ensemble meshes on the title tune the blend is tighter than a drum.

Kelvin Roston, Jr., Stephen Allen and James Earl Jones II star in Five Guys Named Moe, Court Theatre

Whether the tunes are telling an epic story (“Saturday Night Fish Fry”), crooning with melancholy (“Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby”), or literally showering the audience with nonsense (“Push Ki Pi Shie Pi, wherein the lyrics flutter down from the sky), the cast makes the most of the music.

Jordan’s lyrics are sometimes sexist in the extreme, (From “Beware, Brother Beware”: “If you go for a walk/and she just listens while you talk/she’s trying to hook you,” “if she’s easy to kiss, and never resists/be careful, be careful.” From “Safe, Sane and Single:” “a woman is the sweetest thing/know that we all agree/but when she gets the wedding band/a man’s no longer free”). The production attempts to atone for that by shoehorning “Beware, Sister, Beware” onto the end of the show, but the effort is little, late and ineffective. If there’s a remedy for the problem that wouldn’t involve illegally messing with the lyrics, I don’t know what it is.

Lyrical issues aside, Five Guys looks and sounds terrific. Set designer Courtney O’Neill has ingeniously turned the stage into the inside of a old time radio, lush-looking varnished wood framing a complex array of cathodes and anodes and wiring and pegboard. And sound designer Victoria Deiorio makes everything sound grand. Louis Jordan deserves to be celebrated. Five Guys succeeds in doing just that.

  
Rating: ★★★
  

Five Guys Named Moe continues through October 8th October 15th at Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis (map), with performances Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30pm, Fridays 8pm, Saturdays 3pm & 8pm, Sundays 2:30pm &  7:30pm.  Tickets are $44-$74, and are available by phone (773-753-4472) or online through their website (check for availability of half-price tickets). More information at CourtTheatre.org(Running time: 2 hours, includes an intermission)

Darrian Ford, Lorenzo Rush, Jr., Eric Andrews Lewis, Stephen Allen, James Earl Jones II and Kelvin Roston, Jr.

Photos by Michael Brosilow 


  

artists

cast

Stephen Allen (Nomax), Darrian Ford (Little Moe), James Earl Jones II (Eat Moe), Eric Andrews Lewis (No Moe), Kelvin Roston Jr. (Four-Eyed Moe), Lorenzo Rush Jr. (Big Moe).

band

Abdul Hamid Royal (piano, band leader), J. P. Floyd (trombone), Chuck Webb (bass), Harold Morrison (drums), Sam Hankins (trumpet), Jarrard Harris (reeds).

behind the scenes

Ron OJ Parson (director), Abdul Hamid Royal (music director), Felicia P. Fields (associate director), Courtney O’Neill (scenic design), Michael Alan Stein (costume design), Heather Gilbert (lighting design), Victoria Deiorio (sound design), Christopher Carter (choreography), Erin Albrecht (stage manager), Michael Brosilow (photos)

Eric Andrews Lewis, Darrian Ford, James Earl Jones II, Lorenzo Rush, Jr. and Kelvin Roston, Jr.

17-0938

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Category: 2017 Reviews, Catey Sullivan, Court Theatre, Musical Revue

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