Good times come in plaid, wingtips, song
You know when you stagger home after a night of drinking and turn on the radio, and it’s playing Louis Jordan’s version of “Five Guys Named Moe,” and suddenly five Moes in snazzy plaid jackets and wingtips appear in your living room to perform Jordan’s greatest hits for you?
No? Right, this happens only to Nomax (Obba Babatundé), the alcoholic protagonist of Clarke Peters’ 1992 jukebox musical “Five Guys Named Moe,” in an irresistible revival at Ebony Repertory Theatre in L.A.
The bouncy, nimble, velvet-voiced Moes have appeared, they inform Nomax, because in addition to drinking too heavily, he has been mistreating his girlfriend, Lorraine, who has consequently walked out on him. It will take at least 22 numbers — including “Let the Good Times Roll,” “Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby” and “Choo, Choo Ch’Boogie” — to set the tippling cad straight.
As a temperance regime, “Five Guys Named Moe” is unlikely to gain traction: The Moes are such a treat that if getting drunk were a reliable means of summoning them, the most ascetic among us would take up the bottle. As a dramatic work, meanwhile, “Five Guys” is full of holes. We learn nothing about Nomax’s character that would explain why he, of all people, is the beneficiary of the Moes’ vibrant, melodious intervention. Also puzzling: The Moes sing numerous songs promoting the very behaviors — commitment-phobia (“Beware, Brother, Beware” and “Safe, Sane and Single”) and heavy drinking (“What’s the Use of Getting Sober”) — of which they claim to want to reform Nomax.
Furthermore, the character of Lorraine, even as an offstage foil, is woefully underdeveloped. When the Moes’ fabulous gig — which eventually whisks Nomax off to the swanky Club Alabam — comes to an end, Nomax stops at a phone booth, at whatever ungodly hour of the morning, to ask Lorraine for another chance, and he doesn’t even have to beg. “No, I’m not drunk,” he assures her. Ha! He’s had a highball in his hand all night! I know I wasn’t the only one in the audience wondering: What’s in it for Lorraine? She didn’t even get to see the show.
But as a celebration of and reintroduction to the music of Jordan, the 1930s-50s bandleader, sax player, singer and songwriter who either helped write or popularized the songs in the score, “Five Guys” is one of the more entertaining experiences available to humanity. The songs — you’ve heard them and will want to hear them again — are catchy, playful, clever and foot-tapping, filled with an understanding of, and warm affection for, people and our foibles. The five Moes here throw themselves exuberantly into the variety of dazzling performances directed and choreographed by Keith Young and backed up by the live six-piece band, with music director Abdul Hamid Royal (also the music director of the original Broadway production) at the piano.
The Moes are Big Moe (Octavius Womack), Little Moe (Trevon Davis), Four Eyed Moe (Rogelio Douglas Jr.), No Moe (Jacques C. Smith) and Eat Moe (Eric B. Anthony) — joke names dreamed up for a novelty song and then brought to life as unusually appealing individuals. Even if they weren’t all skillful singers and dancers, they would be fun to have around: They banter pleasantly between numbers, share the job of lead singer and back one another up in tight harmony. Their commitment to our amusement is such that they even put on f luffy yellow costumes for “Ain’t Nobody Here but Us Chickens.” Wouldn’t they consider making house calls to people other than Nomax? Plenty of us would love a chance to see these performances in our own living rooms and, though the band sometimes drowns them out, hear more of the lyrics.
Here’s an idea for a sequel: “Five Guys Named Moe: The Revenge of Lorraine.”
NOMAX (Obba Babatundé, seated) is serenaded by the Moes (Jacques C. Smith, left, Trevon Davis, Octavius Womack, Rogelio Douglas Jr. and Eric B. Anthony).