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.
No sooner had the titular quintet burst on stage through plumes of smoke—all five visually ablaze in gaily-colored, modified zoot suits (by Allison Kirstukas)—than I felt a smile widen my cheeks. That rib-eating grin (a delicious meal is part of the deal) only grew wider as this happy song-and-dance-cum-comedy parade took over the theatre and won over the audience lickety-split.
Think of it as burlesque—of the good, clean, fully-clothed variety.
Here Comes Mr. Jordan
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.
In the edgy argot of modern business, Mr. Jordan was a disruptive innovator of popular music. His seminal shaping of pop song structure and content left its mark on everyone from Chuck Berry and Fats Domino to Drake and Lizzo.
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 acknowledgd by an arch apology at one point for the “chauvinistic songs.”)
To serve the diverse range of numbers faithfully, Mr. Peters conjured a collection of complementary characters, namely Eat Moe
(Quentin Avery Brown), No Moe (Tyler Johnson-Campion), Four-Eyed Moe (Douglas Lyons), Big Moe (Tony Perry), and Little Moe (Isaiah Reynolds).
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 never 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.
It all comes together without a hitch under the skillful supervision of director and choreographer Richard Stafford and assistant choreographer Kristyn Pope. They’ve mounted one of the flashiest, funnest, most satisfying shows I’ve ever seen at WBT.
If you have a hankerin’ to party hearty, Five Guys Named Moe is Moe-st highly recommended. And while you’re getting tickets for this show 914.592.2222; BroadwayTheatre.com), you might as well get them too for the next party at Westchester Broadway Theatre: All Shook Up, with the songs of Elvis Presley, running March 5-May 3.