BWW Reviews: FIVE GUYS NAMED MOE Slays at Arena
While Arena is celebrating the 50th anniversary of FIDDLER ON THE ROOF on the Fichandler Stage, something a little more radical is happening a few meters to the right in the Kreeger Theater. That's where the Mead Center for American Theater is putting on a conceptual musical revue by Clarke Peters featuring King of the 1940's jukebox Louis Jordan's greatest hits. Sounds crazy, no? The answer is yes, and in the best way possible.
Entering the theater, the audience is immediately transported to the sights and sounds of the 40's. With nothing but a radio on stage blasting oldies, the production team does everything possible to maintain the illusion that this is a typical jukebox musical, a charade that carries through the opening number, (Early in the Morning), as misguided hero Nomax, (Kevin McAllister), stumbles on stage as if he just walked out of the Rhapsody in Blue segment in Fantasia 2000. McAllister performs this song on a dark, cramped stage illuminated by nothing but a lonely spotlight and beautiful black and white projections of the city. The second song, (Five Guys Named Moe), introduces the show's premise, which is simultaneously impossibly simple and absolutely absurd. After a dramatic fight with his girlfriend of six years, Nomax wanders the streets drunk before attempting to find solace in his radio. What he finds however, are five guys named Moe, who hop out of the radio and come alive in a quest to educated Nomax on the ways of women and relationships via classic tunes like Brother Beware and Is You Is or Is You Ain't My Baby?
Originally produced on the West End in 1990 by Cameron Mackintosh, the unexpected twist in director Robert O'Hara's reimagining is its inventive updating. While every element of the production gives a nod to the musical source material, O'Hara has embraced present day boy band aesthetics with a glitzy look, (featuring lickable costumes by Dede Ayite), and hip new orchestrations. An expansive set is hiding behind the scrim for the entire first song before being revealed in a theatrical moment that rivals the Loveland sequence from FOLLIES. Set designer Clint Ramos has done a tremendous job filling the stage both horizontally and vertically, and the five Moes have plenty of space to bust some moves even with the six person band placed firmly in the center. Equally as impressively, with the hour+ the audience has to gawk at the set, projection designer Jeff Sugg never lets it get old, constantly finding new ways to surprise and outdo expectations of what is and can be done in theater. In fact, across the board the production team is stellar with Lindsay Jones' sound design keeping the music loud but clear and Alex Jainchill's featuring a unique, dance-inspired look.
The highlight of this production are the five Moes, played by Jobari Parker-Namdar, Sheldon Henry, Clinton Roane, Travis Porchia, and Paris Nix. All are uniquely talented triple threats crooning and tap dancing their way through non-stop musical madness. The six person cast shares the stage with the musical ensemble under the direction of keyboardist Darryl G. Ivey, who put in such a lively and energetic performance they each deserve a name check: Jacob Bremkamp on second keyboard, David Marsh on bass, Mark Carson on drums, Brent Madsen on trumpet, and Elijah Jamal Balbed on saxophones. The bands so good their presence on stage is on the verge of being a distraction, which is high praise considering the craziness the five Moes get up to wih Byron Easley's part comic, part sexy choreography.
While an oldies-filled jukebox revue complete with a nod to today's boy bands might not sound like the most appealing night of theater DC has to offer, O'Hara's skillfully lighthearted take had the audience gasping, laughing, singing along, and even dancing on stage in the hectic act one finale, (Push Ka Pi Shi Pie), so take the plunge into your radio and let Five Guys Named Moe show you the way.
Photo 1: The cast of Five Guys Named Moe, Photo 2: (L to R) Sheldon Henry as Big Moe, Jobari Parker-Namdar as No Moe, Clinton Roane as Little Moe, Travis Porchia as Four-Eyed Moe and Paris Nix as Eat Moe. Photos by C. Stanley Photography.
Runtime is approximately 90 minutes with one intermission.