Benet Catty Productions

Five Guys Named Moe (WE 2017)

Dec 1, 2017

Marble Arch Theatre

In 1990 the Theatre Royal Stratford East produced a compilation show of the 1940s jazz songs of Louis Jordan for a short run. One night the producer Cameron Mackintosh was in the audience and Clarke Peters, the show’s writer and star, got a message to meet him in the bar afterwards. As he approached the impresario, who had four monster hits running in London and around the world at the time, Mackintosh grabbed him by his lapels and said “I want this show”. Peters wasn’t up for bargaining. “I want you to have it too!” he said.

The show transferred to Shaftesbury Avenue and ran for five years, winning Olivier Awards and ending up on Broadway and around the world. Now, more than twenty years on and staged in a vast specially-created circus tent at Marble Arch, it’s back in London and has extended its run well until Easter. It is, if anything, even better than the original.

Nomax is having trouble with his girlfriend, and is getting drunk in his living room listening to the radio. So bad are his problems that his radio explodes (isn’t that always the way?) and out pop five guys named Moe determined to steer him away from his demons and back to his love. They do so by singing and dancing two dozens of the greatest jazz songs ever written. In this production, directed by Peters himself, there is a nightclub setting with a bull ring encircled by a (moving) raised platform around which the six guys sing and dance.

As with the original, it’s the exuberance of the guys matching the foot-tapping numbers which makes it such a joyous evening out. But here it has a further ingredient: real visual flair. Every few minutes Peters and his designer takis (sic) and lighting designer Philip Gladwell conjure up a treat. Unlike so many compilation shows of the past and present, the production doesn’t just operate a “sing the songs and take the money” approach; there’s constant flair in the staging to match the wit and wisecracking of Peters’ script.

Andrew Wright’s choreography is slick and energetic albeit perhaps not as eye-popping as Charles Augins’ original dances on which it is based.

The cast are every bit the equal of their forebears. Edward Baruwa as Nomax, in many ways the most difficult role, has a commanding vocal and physical presence and brings honest vulnerability to his not-quite-down-and-out character. Ian Carlyle as Four Eyed Moe, the closest the show has to a master of ceremonies, leads in the dazzle stakes but every one of the Moes knows how to sell a number and they do so all evening.

The real wow of the show, though, is the songs. From Early in the Morning at the top of the evening to Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby at the end, through Messy Bessy and I Like ‘Em Fat Like That and There Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens and Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying along the way it’s one great hit after another. And the home given to more melancholy obscurities – What’s the Use of Getting Sober (When You’re Gonna Get Drunk Again), for instance – are surprisingly touching and stop the show becoming repetitively upbeat. The highlight of the night, Pushka Pi Shee Pie, involving the five guys leading the audience in a conga around the auditorium and into the bar, can’t fail to put any sane person in a New Year mood.

There’s nothing not to like about Five Guys Named Moe. It’s funny, it’s pacey, it’s energetic, its full of visual flair, it’s saturated with gorgeous harmonies, and with as good a collection of songs as has ever been assembled for a jukebox show.

There’s no better way to chase away the New Year blues.

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