Band: Reginald Royal, piano; James Leary, bass; Yonrico Vondez Scott, drums; Will Miller, trumpet; Gregory Charles Royal, trombone; Fernando Harkless, reeds.
Following a 464-performance Broadway run, Clarke Peters’ energetic “Five Guys Named Moe” has hit Los Angeles, the first stop on a national tour. Of all the recent musicals based on the work of black performers (“Ain’t Misbehavin’, “”Sophisticated Ladies,” etc.), this lively, funny revue, as direct-
ed and choreographed by Charles Augins, may bethe most likely to appeal to a broad-based audience — even though Louis Jordan, whose repertoire makes up the show’s music, is a name that will draw blank stares from most of today’s pop music fans.
One of the most popular and influential black performers of the’40s, the American singer and alto saxophonist was — and remains — virtually unknown to mainstream (read: white) audiences.
Jordan’s music was an oft-rocking amalgam of jazz, calypso, ballads, hillbilly, blues, patter songs and sheer vaudeville. Some of the hits reprised in this show might be familiar to today’s auds through revivals by blues and country performers, among them “Let the Good Times Roll,””Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens,””Caldonia” and “Choo, Choo, Ch’Boogie.”
“Moe” is loosely connected by the story of Nomax (Kirk Taylor), a young man who is encountering romantic difficulties. He’s in a particularly despondent mood when out of his radio pop the figures in a dream — men whom author Peters has named Big Moe, Little Moe, Eat Moe, Four-Eyed Moe and No Moe. Individually and collectively, singing and dancing, they offer Nomax advice in the form of songs identified with Jordan. That’s Act I.
The second act consists of a stage show, starring the quintet and, again, featuring Jordan songs.
This is all pretty thin, so the show, which originated as a cabaret act for Peters (who co-starred in the 1991 original production in London’s East End), stands or falls on the strength of its music and presentation.
All five Moes are capable singer-dancers, well able to sell a song though, perhaps intentionally, none is a particularly strong stylist in this context. Still, “Big Moe” Doug Eskew shows a Jackie Wilson influence, particularly during “Caldonia”; and “Little Moe” Jeffrey Polk displays a bit more character during the songs than the rest. Everybody gets to show more personality during Act II, which includes much interplay with the audience.
Those unfamiliar with Jordan should keep in mind that his music and attitudes were very much of a time, 1943-52 in this collection; the cast even apologizes for the “chauvinist” nature of lyrics like those to “Beware, Brother, Beware” and “I Like ’em Fat Like That.”
Noel Howard’s costumes — colorful without being too flamboyant — are a strong asset to the show; Tim Goodchild’s minimalist set, a stylized urban skyline, is functional and appealing. The band provides consistently excellent and interesting accompaniment and solos under the direction of pianist Reginald Royal.
Two of the show’s high points feature the group: the Act I closing “Push Ka Pi Shi Pie” (the “new be-bop calypso,” with trombonist Gregory Charles Royal slipping in a few bars of Dizzy Gillespie’s “Salt Peanuts” for any jazzbos in the audience) and the post-curtain call instrumental jam.
Such is the depth of Jordan’s excellent recorded repertoire that Peters’ selection of just under 30 tunes from several hundred candidates leaves such gems as “I’m Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town,””Open the Door, Richard, “”Boogie in the Barnyard””Run, Joe” and “That Chick’s Too Young to Fry” on the spike (though the bit of dialogue from “Richard” about being 12 months’ late on $ 3/month rent finds its way into the show). The good news is that the omissions leave plenty of opportunity for “Five Mo’ Guys Named Moe.”