Five Guys Named Moe Westchester Broadway Theater Theatre Review

Published: Wednesday, February 5, 2020 By: Gerry Falco Source: The Theatre Guide

Five Guys Named Moe is running through March 1st at the Westchester Broadway Theatre as a tribute to Black History Month. The play features the music of Louis Jordan, a renowned and underappreciated songwriter and bandleader. He is a good choice for this theme. Jordan started out as a swing band artist in the 1930’s and is later credited as the innovator of “jump blues” and as an early contributor to the musical genesis of rock and roll.  The original musical was produced by Clarke Peters and featured Jordan’s music. The show originally debuted in London where it earned two coveted Laurence Olivier Awards. It eventually appeared on Broadway in 1992. This production is directed by Richard Stafford.

There isn’t much in the way of dramatic acting in this play. Rather, there is the sheer enjoyment of a live blues band, wonderful tenor voices and intricate choreography – lots of it. The play is built upon the loose story of “No Max” (Napoleon Douglas) who wakes up in his lounge chair hungover, depressed, broke and facing the fact that his girl has left him.  He sullenly turns on the radio, and as if it is a time machine, five jubilant characters from the swing-era named Moe emerge. They include “Eat Mo” (Quentin Avery Brown), “No Mo” (Tyler Johnson-Campion), “Four Eyed Mo” (Douglas Lyons), “Little Mo” (Isiah Reynolds) and “Big Mo” (Tony Perry). You may remember Mr. Perry playing the part of Ken in last year’s production of “Ain’t Misbehavin”.

The six piece band sits live on stage with a silhouetted city skyline as a backdrop. There is little in the way a set or props. Colored lighting sets the various moods. At times, vapor emanates from backstage giving the feeling of a smoke filled nightclub. Each of the players displays strong and varied voices. They sing solo and in unison, and are seemingly in constant motion. Each of these men, big and small, are light on their feet and display, at times, some fancy dance moves straight out of the swing era. There is a large selection of Louis Jordan’s greatest hits through the two acts. These are set to intricate and interesting choreography by Mr. Stafford and his assistant choreographer Kristyn Pope. And, just wait for the tap performance of No Mo played by Mr. Campion. “Five Moes”  is probably the best known of these numbers, though I was particularly drawn to “Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby”.

There would be an endless debate deciding which of these players has the best voice. All were strong and all had their unique characteristics, from the deep tones of Quintin Avery Brown’s “Eat Mo” and Tony Perry as Big Mo to the smooth and liquidly voice of Napoleon Douglas as No Max.  (My spouse was partial to the brassy voice of Douglas Lyons as Four-Eyed Mo). The voices were sometimes difficult to discern from the band playing in the background. This might have been eliminated, perhaps, if the instrumental portion was a bit softer. On the other hand, the great sound of the band, directed by John Daniels was a delight on its own.

Somewhere in the middle of the second act I noticed my smile was fixed. There is some good, almost acapella, mixing of voices during the medley toward the conclusion of the show.  While I enjoyed this show, the finale lead to a rare standing ovation that proved the rest of the audience enjoyed it as well.