BWW Interview: Clarke Peters, Creator of FIVE GUYS NAMED MOE, Talks About the Production at ERT, Louis Jordan and Whether LA Will Ever Become A "Theatre City"

Actor/singer/writer/director Clarke Peters first debuted FIVE GUYS NAMED MOE in the United Kingdom in 1990. Two years later it premiered on Broadway and ran for 445 performances. Over the last several years, FIVE GUYS NAMED MOE has been produced across the United States and the United Kingdom. On May 19, a refreshed version of FIVE GUYS NAMED MOE premiered at the Ebony Repertory Theatre in Los Angeles. I caught up with Peters to talk about the production, Louis Jordan and whether LA will ever become a "theatre city."

For those who are unfamiliar with the show, could you please provide a short synopsis?

This is a story about love lost and love rediscovered. Our hero, Nomax, is taken on a journey through the landscapes of his heart and mind by five characters names Moe.

As the playwright of this musical, what inspired you to create this show?

The inspiration came from self-analysis. I was told that we should always write from life, characters or situations. While working away from home, I had time to reflect. On my short weekends, I'd drive, sometimes eight hours, to get home while listening to Louis Jordan music on cassettes. On those long rides home, I would zone out to how his lyrics seemed to talk to my love life.

We were doing the opera CARMEN JONES, and the company organized a talent night, just a little something to entertain ourselves with. We were all away from home. So, I staged the song "Five Guys Named Moe" as my contribution to our evening's entertainment. Everyone had a good laugh: the Moes and our audience. I think the seed to develop this moment into a larger experience started then.

How did Louis Jordan play a part in creating FIVE GUYS NAMED MOE?

Louis Jordan's music has a soulful joy about it. Of the hundreds of recorded songs I went through, there wasn't one that broke my heart. That's why Louis Jordan's music. Further research on Louis Jordan revealed that he is one of those personalities who influenced popular music of his day with elements we still hear today. He is the unsung, godfather, hero of rock 'n' roll. From Little Richard to Bill Haley, Elvis Presley to James Brown; his sense of humor, his horn arrangements, his showmanship, the professional expand of his career. That's the biopic: A life from Minstrels to Beatniks.

As a follow up, I read online Jordan wrote a musical short with the same name. Could you elaborate on what this was?

I'm not familiar with Louis Jordan's musical short of FIVE GUYS NAMED MOE, but it wouldn't surprise me. He was taking full advantage of the jukebox video market of the day. He was the Juke Box King after all.

How long did it run on Broadway and what were audience's reactions like?

You'll have to research that yourself. I think I the show ran just over a year with a two-year national tour. It was five years in the West End. The audience reaction has always been festive. That's how Mr. Jordan would have desired it. "Let the good times roll."

BWW Interview: Clarke Peters, Creator of FIVE GUYS NAMED MOE, Talks About the Production at ERT, Louis Jordan and Whether LA Will Ever Become A
Original West End cast of FIVE GUYS NAMED MOE
(L-R) Clarke Peters, Peter Newton, Paul J Medford, Omar Okai and Kenny Andrews

It is to my knowledge ERT's production of FIVE GUYS NAMED MOE is a revival of the original Broadway production but with a "refresh," so to speak, with the original Broadway musical director, Abdul Hamid Royal. Why did you decide to do this for LA's Ebony Repertory Theatre?

I didn't decide that it be done here. That decision was taken by ERT to incorporate it as part of their season. A decision I'm very grateful for. The respect they've given to the piece as part of a historical journey of melanated American performance arts has lifted it beyond mere entertainment. They saw the 25th anniversary before me. I hadn't looked at this as being a piece of cultural value until recently. I'm still making assessment. But I suppose it is when I hear Louis Jordan's lyrics in "Fat Like That" or "Messy Bessy" and how imagery locks us into a time, a point in history, a landmark in laughter. Or, when we see Charles Augins' original choreography and seeing a line to Katherine Dunham then it is worthy of discussions around its socio-political value. Abdul Hamid Royals' hands in the mix can only make our ears dance with the spirit of Mr. Jordan.

BWW Interview: Clarke Peters, Creator of FIVE GUYS NAMED MOE, Talks About the Production at ERT, Louis Jordan and Whether LA Will Ever Become A
Ebony Repertory Theatre cast of FIVE GUYS NAMED MOE
(front) Obba Babatundé, (rear L-R) Octavius Womack, Rogelio Douglas, Jr., Eric B. Anthony, Jacques C. Smith and Trevon Davis

LA, so I've been told, is not seen as a theatre city; rather it's a film and TV city. Why should LA be seen as a theatre city? And how should artists, residents, etc., make that happen (in your opinion)?

LA is a camera city. The natural light was an instrumental ingredient in its conception. The very basis of its being was to be a capital of entertainment that was an alternative to theatre. Why should it be a theatre city? The two mediums have co-existed for a long time without any major debate, as far as I'm aware. Yet, if one wanted to inject the existing theatre community with a shot of adrenaline, the citizens of the city have to be given good theatre experiences. A-list Hollywood actors would have to be proactive in producing, directing, but more importantly, acting in theatre productions of all manner and imagination. Stage craft is different from camera craft; yet, the essence of storytelling on stage is where acting, in both crafts, has its soul. And, I dare say, it's the most rewarding to the spirit of the actor. I guess, in short, if LA was, as well, a theatre town, the best actors would flock here and this public would have access to a thriving self-sustaining theatre world.

Jazz plays a huge part in this production, but jazz music isn't necessarily the most popular genre. In a way, LA LA LAND brought jazz back into the spotlight for many viewers. Do you think jazz is going to make a comeback/will be listened to more?

Dear Ilana, we will have to cross worlds to really understand each other if your point of reference to a resurgence of jazz is LA LA LAND. Whether you know it or not, you've been listening to jazz your whole life, assuming you lived in the USA your whole life. The majority of what people refer to as "jazz" today had many names back in the '30s '40s and '50s: jump, bounce, boogie, hot, rhythm and blues, rock 'n' blues. In 1946, Louis Jordan released "Let the Good Times Roll." Rock 'n' roll.

This is quite the star-studded cast! What different talents does each of the members bring to this production?

I wish I could answer that question. I'm not in the room long enough to make that assessment. Neither do I want to be. I want to be surprised on the night.

What are you most looking forward to by doing a refreshed version of FIVE GUYS NAMED MOE?

I'm not producing, directing, nor performing in this production, so one thing I'm looking forward to is seeing how many dig it.

What do you hope the audience takes away from the show?

I'd like the audience to leave smiling, children bickering over what was their favorite song or who was their favorite Moe.

FIVE GUYS NAMED MOE is running at the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center at the Ebony Repertory Theatre (4718 W. Washington Blvd.) now until June 11. Directed and choreographed by Keith Young, this production stars Obba Babatundé (Broadway: DREAMGIRLS, CHICAGO; CBS: The Bold and the Beautiful ), Eric B. Anthony (Broadway: MARY POPPINS, HAIRSPRAY, THE LION KING), Trevon Davis (Broadway/National Tour: BOOK OF MORMON; Broadway: THE GERSHWIN'S PORGY AND BESS), Rogelio Douglas, Jr. (Broadway: IN THE HEIGHTS; Showtime: Ray Donovan; Straight Outta Compton), Jacques C. Smith (Broadway: RENT; Pasadena Playhouse: 12 ANGRY MEN; HBO: Oz) and Octavius Womack (Candlelight Pavilion: The Buddy Holly Story).

Catch FIVE GUYS NAMED MOE Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Sundays at 3 p.m. Tickets range from $30 to $55 at www.ebonyrep.org or by calling 323-964-9766. Groups of 10 or more are available by email, groups@ebonyrep.org, or by calling 323-964-9766.

Photo credits: Craig Schwartz Photography (all FIVE GUYS NAMED MOE production photos); Clarke Peters (all photos of Peters solo and with the original West End cast)

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From This Author Ilana Lifshitz

Ilana Lifshitz Ilana Lifshitz is a University of Florida alumna who hails from Wellington, Fla., but resides in Los Angeles. She moved to LA almost three years (read more...)

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