BWW Review: FIVE GUYS NAMED MOE at Black Repertory Theatre Of Kansas City
Completing the first season for the new Black Repertory Theater of Kansas City is a celebration of big band musician and composer Louis Jordan in the musical show "Five Guys Named Moe" at the newly remodeled and improved auditorium at the Arts Asylum near downtown Kansas City.
Both directed by and featuring Black Rep Executive Director Damron Russel Armstrong, "Five Guys" is a delightful couple of hours spent in the company of six very capable performers and a great back-up band. If you enjoyed the shows performed by early black rock and roll acts, you will love this affectionate look back at one of the most prolific and hugely appealing black composers who helped lead the charge that resulted in modern rock and roll.
"Five Guys Named Moe" is stitched thinly on a kind of tortured premise. Our show opens to the suggestion of an apartment occupied by a man with the unlikely name of Nomax (DamRon Armstrong). Nomax has been drinking and arguing with his girlfriend. We aren't quite sure what the argument is about but we quickly learn that Nomax has quite a set of pipes on him and a great big band hidden away with sound emanating from a cathedral style 1930-1940s radio sitting on a chair side table.
Nomax passes out from a combination of too much booze and too much argument. Kind of magically, a five man singing group appears from what I must assume is Nomax's dream state. The group is called "Five Guys Named Moe." They perform the title song to the show as an exuberant production number.
In spite of its tortured premise, the important take-a-way is the audience does not care. "Five Guys" is excellent entertainment. The "Moe" singing group is stuffed chock full with fun and skilled performers all named Moe. Each actor takes his time in the sun and then melts back into a backup group worthy of the "Pips" behind Gladys Knight or "The Commodores" behind Lionel Richie.
And now Introducing the Moes... No Mo is Broadway, international tour, and Kansas City Ballet veteran Christopher Barksdale-Burns. Little Moe is Francisco Javier Villegas recently seen at both the Coterie Theater at Crown Center and as an everywhere presence in Starlight's indoor production of "First Date." Four-eyed MO is Nathaniel Rosson, another alumnae of The Coterie plus the Unicorn Theater and the Kansas City Boy's Choir. Big Moe is Douglass Walker who brings experiences from "Black Nativity" and "Live at the Gem" among others. Eat Moe is Rodney Thompson. He fits in with the other four Moes like a glove after training at Langston University.
These guys can sing and they can dance. The audience enjoys 25 musical numbers in about 100 minutes including an Act I ending Conga line recruited from the audience and Big Moe's audience responsive "Caldonia." There are many more highlights than can be listed here.
The rather thin plotline has the five Moes acting as therapy providers for Nomax who wakes up and periodically participates in all that singing and dancing. Eventually Nomax learns the error of his ways and makes up with his girlfriend. Great dramatic transformation? Not so much. But it is a pretty good excuse to be entertained by the music of Louis Jordan. Jordan died in 1975 and is buried in St. Louis.
"Five Guys Named Moe" was created by Clarke Peters in the UK around 1990. He participated in the 1990 original production brought to the stage by international impresario Cameron Macintosh. A 1992 Broadway production played for 445 performances.
The remodeled performance space at the Arts Asylum features all new theater seating and sound baffling on auditorium walls. It is a much more comfortable space than it previously was with many more possibilities.
"Five Guys Named Moe" continues through April 9 at the Arts Asylum. Evening curtains go up at 7:30 pm. Tickets are available on the internet at www.brtkc.org.
Photo courtesy of the Black Repertory Theatre of Kansas City and Phtographer Elize Poehling.