Good times come in plaid, wingtips, song

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - By Mar­garet Gray cal­en­dar@la­times.com

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.”

Craig Schwartz

NO­MAX (Obba Ba­batundé, seated) is ser­e­naded by the Moes (Jac­ques C. Smith, left, Trevon Davis, Oc­tavius Wo­mack, Ro­ge­lio Dou­glas Jr. and Eric B. An­thony).

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