At Westchester Broadway Theatre, FIVE GUYS NAMED MOE Got Mucho Mojo

Published: Wednesday, February 5, 2020 By: Bruce Apar Source: Broadway World

Opening nights at Westchester Broadway Theatre end with a generously catered reception in the lobby. Members of the press and anyone else in attendance can meet and mingle with the show's performers while enjoying savory bites and beverages.

As the audience was catching its breath after giddily applauding the dazzling performers of Five Guys Named Moe taking their bows, the lady at the next table asked me, "Are you staying for the party?" I replied, "You mean the after-party. We just were at the party."

That's as good a way as any to describe the celebratory sensation of being in the presence of the dozen stellar performers on stage -- six sensational actors and an equal number of groovin' musicians.

Five Guys Named Moe is a frenetically paced, endlessly entertaining paean to multi-talented, mid-20th Century musician Louis Jordan. Back in the day, the so-called "King of the Jukebox" was all of it -- virtuoso saxophone player, band leader, singer, and a prolific, quirky songwriter of eminently listenable music and lyrics that excited the imagination and animated the dance floor.

First mounted on Broadway in the 1990s, this award-winning valentine to his Moe-mentous talent -- at Westchester Broadway Theatre in Elmsford through March 1 -- is a kaleidoscope of spontaneous combustion that showcases Louis Jordan's prodigious mastery of different genres. His flash and fluidity in shifting from one form to another is rendered on stage with consummate theatricality.

The playbill quotes the original show's creator, Clarke Peters: "Louis said he never wanted to sing songs that made people feel sad. He always wanted them to feel good and have a great time."

Jordanian lyrics veer from poignant ("Don't Let the Sun Catch You Crying") to cheeky, cautionary tales of the war between the sexes, awash in wit -- whether a Moe is vowing to stay "Safe, Sane and Single," or asking his main squeeze, Caldonia, "what makes your big head so hard."

(As for the seemingly dated sexism, in this playfully broad context, it works its wily charms even today, and is openly acknowledged by an arch apology at one point for the "chauvinistic songs.")

They function as figments of the imagination of Nomax (Napoleon M. Douglas), a jilted young man who opens the show drinking his blues away while listening to the blues on a 1940s tabletop radio.

Each actor brings a distinct persona to his role, and they all blend beautifully. What they have in common are vocal chops, smooth dance moves (splits, flips, cartwheels, square dance hoedown, tap), and infectious exuberance. The party atmosphere is boosted considerably by the on-stage band of John Daniels (music director, piano), Steve Bleifuss (trombone), Jim Briggs (clarinet, sax), Dave Dunaway (bass), Jay Mack (percussion), Brian Uhl (trumpet).

I don't remember a show moving with such energy, grace, Moe-mentum, musicality and sheer fun. From the moment the Moes materialize until the moment they Moe-sey off stage, this musical is magical, with just the right mix of mayhem, mugging and music.