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Five Guys Named Moe – Upstairs at the Gatehouse

Sometime before 5am, a drunken man staggers into his home and sits despondently listening to the radio. His life is not great. He’s broke, his girlfriend has left him and the only thing he has to sustain him is alcohol and the music of Louis Jordan. This is the setting for Five Guys Named Moe, a musical by Clarke Peters which has just opened at the Upstairs at the Gatehouse Theatre.

Five Guys Named Moe - Credit Timothy Kelly.
Five Guys Named Moe – Credit Timothy Kelly.

As Nomax (Juan Jackson), for this is the man’s name, sits, suddenly the music on the radio becomes louder, clearer and more alive as Big Moe (Km Drew Boateng), Eat Moe (AJ Lewis), Four Eyed Moe (Kieran McGinn), Little Moe (Christian Maynard) and No Moe (Andre Coulson) appear in the room with Nomax. Like the ghosts in A Christmas Carol the Five Guys Named Moe are on a mission to make Nomax realise the error of his ways and turn him off the current self-destructive road he is going down. Can they achieve this using only their personalities and the magic of song?

According to Wikipedia, “a jukebox musical is a stage musical or musical film in which a majority of the songs are well-known popular music songs, rather than original music.” And by this definition, Five Guys Named Moe can definitely be classified as a jukebox musical. We have over twenty songs predominantly by the late, great Louis Jordan – who incidentally was known as “The King of the Jukebox” – linked together by a narrative written by Clarke Peters. Unfortunately, this is, to my mind, the weakest part of the show. The story of Nomax and his reluctant conversion from zero to, well not exactly hero but as close as he’s ever going to get is so thin as to be transparent, and in parts of the second act disappears completely. However, having said that, Nomax does go through various emotional responses to the various songs that he hears. This is especially true with “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying” which does have a profound effect on him.

So, let’s forget the story and talk about the music and performance. And boy, in these categories this show really shines. The music itself is amazing. There is a range of styles from jump blues, a swinging, up-tempo, dance-oriented hybrid of jazz, blues and boogie-woogie through to classic R&B, urban blues and early forms of rock-and-roll. I absolutely love the music – have been listening (and singing along) to the original London cast recording this morning. Listening to the lyrics, It strikes me how some could be perceived negatively in these PC, woke days, but in the context of the show, they work perfectly to highlight where Nomax is going wrong.

And speaking of Nomax, whilst this is an ensemble piece, I really want to single out Juan Jackson for his outstanding performance. Acting drunk without going too OTT is a real skill and Jackson not only acts drunk but also sings and dances drunk as well. He takes Nomax through various stages of inebriation, from happy through reflective, despairing and finally determined. Not only does he act superbly but Jackson has an extremely powerful and emotional singing voice, especially evidenced in “Early in the Morning” and “If I had any Sense”, both of which bought a lump to this chap’s throat.

Of The Moe’s, it’s difficult to pick any standouts as they worked so well together and had good chemistry in their relationship with each other and the audience – especially McGinn during the opening preamble to “Look Out Sister”.

Director/Choreographer Mykal Rand took the decision to set the production using a traverse stage, which is not usually my favourite form but works really well to not only give the actors a lot of space for dancing but also easily allow them to interact with the audience at various points. With the band under Griffin Jenkins at one end and Nomax’s home designed by Ryan Webster and complete with oversized radio at the other, the staging is pretty impressive and makes great use of the space available. Jean Gray’s costumes give The Moe’s the right 30’s/40’s look and when combined with Timothy Kelly’s lighting there is a great nightclub feel to the production that enhances the highly spirited and impressive renditions by the five Moe’s themselves.

Summing Up, Five Guys Named Moe is a fun, energetic and impressive production that brings the spirit and vitality of Louis Jordan’s work to life. Does it need the extra layer of a story to link the songs, maybe not. This is a show where you arrive not necessarily knowing what’s going to happen and leave with a tune, and the words “Push Ka Pi Shi Pie” stuck in your head forever. And that’s the magic of musical theatre.

4 stars

Review by Terry Eastham

Five Guys Named Moe
A musical by CLARKE PETERS
featuring LOUIS JORDAN’S Greatest Hits

Cast members: AJ LEWIS – Lead Vocalist in Thriller Live (Lyric Theatre), ANDRE COULSON – Recent Graduate, JUAN JACKSON – Cats (Really Useful Company), KIERAN MCGINN – Motown the Musical (Shaftesbury Theatre), KM DREW BOATENG – Motown the Musical (Shaftesbury Theatre), LAWRENCE ROWE – The Book of Mormon (UK & International tour).

AJ Lewis – Eat Moe
Andre Coulson – No Moe
Juan Jackson – Nomax
Kieran McGinn – Four Eyed Moe
KM Drew Boateng – Big Moe
Christian Maynard – Little Moe

Director / Choreographer – Mykal Rand
Musical Director – Sufia Manya
Lighting Designer – Timothy Kelly
Set Designer – Ryan Webster
Sound Designer – Toby Burrow
Casting – Pearson Casting
Producer – Ovation
Presented by special arrangement with Music Theatre International and Cameron Mackintosh
A musical by CLARKE PETERS
featuring LOUIS JORDAN’S Greatest Hits
15th December 2021 – 16th January 2022
Upstairs at the Gatehouse

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