By Jan Sjostrom
Five Guys Named Moe, the rollicking love letter to the music of Louis Jordan, works its magic in a tuneful production by Marcie Gorman & MNM Theatre Company through Sept. 24 at the Kravis Center’s Rinker Playhouse in West Palm Beach.
R&B aficionados and rock history fans might be familiar with Jordan’s work. But in an era when The Beatles are considered ancient history, the once wildly popular artist of the 1940s and early 1950s largely has been consigned to history’s attic.
Five Guys Named Moe, created by Clarke Peters, premiered in London in 1990 and debuted on Broadway in 1992.
Known as the Father of R&B, Jordan was one of the first Black crossover musicians. His music blended front-and-center rhythms with earthy and often humorous lyrics, rich harmonies and a muscular mix of reeds, brass, piano, drums, and eventually, electric guitar and organ
His hits, including Choo Choo Ch’Boogie, Caledonia, Saturday Night Fish Fry and Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby, topped the charts and influenced artists such as Chuck Berry and Bill Haley.
The musical hangs these tunes and others on a flimsy plot that’s no more than a pretext for getting five talented song-and-dance men, a hero with feet of clay and a knock-out band on stage.
Nomax, played by James White III, stumbles home much the worse for drink after having broken up with his girlfriend Lorraine. He flips on his radio and out pop the “Five Moes” eager to reform him with conflicting advice about how to treat women and generous doses of Jordan’s music.
The Moes are played by Doriyan De’Angelo Caty as Eat Moe, Leo Jasper Davis as Big Moe, TJ Pursley as Little Moe, Michael L. Wallace as Four-Eyed Mo and Desir Dumerjuste, who subbed for Don Seward on Sunday afternoon as No Moe.
As characters, they’re practically indistinguishable, other than by their obvious physical differences. They badger and lecture an initially reluctant and startled Nomax into finally seeing the error of his ways. It’s a strain to fit the songs to the plot, and often the show doesn’t bother, which is no great loss as it’s the tunes that matter.
MNM’s production, helmed by director-choreographer Jacquez Linder-Long in his directorial debut, succeeds on many fronts. There’s not much he can do to deepen the plot, but more work on putting individual stamps on the characters would have been welcome.
As it is, the show is infectiously toe-tapping and good-natured, although the cheery demands for audience participation might not be everyone’s idea of fun.
The harmonies are as rich as a buttered biscuit. The dance moves are slick, well-executed and in sync with the lyrics. A six-piece onstage band, led by music director Bobby Peaco, powers the show and wraps each tune in its own setting.
Many of the tunes tell stories that are as much spoken as sung. The performers handle the narrations with wit and enthusiasm. When it comes to singing, some are stronger than others. Pitch problems marred the performances of Dumerjuste and Caty when called upon to sing solo.
The best vocalists of the cast are Pursley, who brings confidence and a distinctive voice to Little Moe, and White, whose golden tone and thoughtful delivery enriched the ballads Early in the Morning and If I Had Any Sense I’d Go Back Home.
The chief attraction of the sparse set is a lively painting of a band over the bar. But that’s probably to leave room for the stage-gobbling dancing. Costumes are simple, too.
The show is all about the music. In that, MNM’s version achieves its goal in celebrating the music of an artist well worth remembering.
Promotional trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S0VAa6VF5jM
Marcie Gorman & MNM Theatre Company’s production of Five Guys Named Moe runs through Sept. 24 at the Kravis Center’s Rinker Playhouse, 701 Okeechobee Blvd., West Palm Beach. Run time is 2 hours and 15 minutes, including intermission. Show times are 7 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 1:30 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets are at (561) 832-7469 or https://www.kravis.org/events/five-guys-named-moe/