REVIEW: FIVE GUYS NAMED MOE
By Shaun Ajamu Hutchinson
Saturday, September 25, 2010.
T wenty years after its critically-acclaimed debut, the play Five Guys Named Moe, returns to a changed world, and staging at the site of its first production - London’s Theatre Royal Stratford East. Returning with the play is its writer cum actor - the versatile Clarke Peters, known for his role as Lester Freamon from the cult TV show The Wire.
Times may have changed but what have stayed constant through those past two decades are the evergreen songs of Louis Jordan. Yes, the music of the legendary Jordan, the alto saxophone player bandleader and pioneering Jazz musician, comes alive again in this exuberant revival with the songs and music of his Tympany Five Band captured perfectly.
The plot is not really the issue here, it’s a musical after all, and once the show gets into gear, the lively banter between songs keeps the energy levels high. But for what it’s worth – the storyline is basic: we see love sick Nomax being transported to an advice session in song by the Five Guys of the title – No, Eat, Four-Eyed, Little and Big.
And maybe its simplicity is why it works so well!
Together, the Moes are a dream team and keep the hyped attitude bubbling over from start to finish. Ashley Campbell, Christopher Colquhoun, Carlton Connell, Paul Hazel and Horace Oliver all dance and sing exquisitely and the distinct personality of each makes a perfectly matched quintet. Separately, they hold their own but this is very much a team effort - with Peters and audience members excitedly roped into the action.
The play’s choreographer is none other than original cast member Paul J Medford. And its director Paulette Randall has made her mark as a TV and theatre producer.
For the audience, there’s no time at all to reflect on the missing plot because the songs are too catchy, the six-piece and extremely tight and the atmosphere relaxed enough to break through any English reserve and British stiff upper lip, with an enthusiastic conga line in the direction of the bar to old time calypso number at the end of Act I - ‘Push Ka Pi Shi Pie’.
The good time doesn’t ease off through the Funky Butt club-set second act. And with Peters mostly looking on from the sidelines, each Moe performs songs that are quaint and unlikely to be produced now. Lyrically and sentiment-wise, they are of a different time; today’s independent Black woman probably wouldn’t accept the somewhat politically-incorrect viewpoint in some of them (I Like ‘Em Fat Like That’, ‘Beware Brother Beware’) – but that minor point is compensated for, in large amount by perfect performances and timeless music.
Another West End run? Why not - it’s deserved.
Theatre Royal Stratford East
Gerry Raffles Square
London E15 1BN
0208 534 0310
Photograph: Steve Ullathorne
Book by Clarke Peters
Music & Lyrics by Louis Jordan
Director Paulette Randall
Choreography Paul J Medford
Musical Supervisors Mike Moran and Pete Churchill
Musical Director Sean Green
Set & Costume Design Jon Bausor
Lighting Design Philip Gladwell
Sound Design Dougie Winchester
Casting Pippa Ailion
Original Choreography by Charles Augins
Shaun Ajamu Hutchinson is The New Black Magazine's arts editor and a London-based freelance journalist.