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FIVE GUYS NAMED MORE, story light, musically big at Cleveland Play House

Roy Berko

(Member, American Theatre Critics Association, Cleveland Critics Circle)

Cleveland Play House has in its recent history included small cast musicals in its offerings. Those shows included TAPPIN’ THROUGH LIFE (Maurice Hines), BREATH AND IMAGINATION (Roland Hayes), WOODY SEZ;  LIFE AND MUSIC OF WOODY GUTHRIE (Woody Guthrie), THE DEVIL’S MUSIC:  THE LIFE AND TIMES OF BESSIE SMITH (Bessie Smith), and ONE NIGHT WITH JANIS JOPLIN (Janis Joplin).  Each told a story about the person through their own words, their music, or from the mouths of those who knew them.  Often they have been tied to Black History Month.

Do not expect any personal or history patterns in FIVE GUYS NAMED MOE, a musical by Clarke Peters, which features the great hits of Louis Jordan,  but does not deal with Jordan’s history or life tale.   Nor is there a direct tie to Black History month.

Jordan is noted as the 1940’s bandleader who pioneered a blend of jazz and blues, which centered on swinging shuffle rhythms, sometimes referred to as “jump blues” or “jumpin’ jive.”  His music appealed to both blacks and whites, thus he become the first successful crossover artist of American popular music.  He is sometimes referred to as the “Grandfather of Rock n’ Roll.”

What could be better than an evening of the music of Louis Jordan and his influential “jumpin’ jive” that paved the road through the blues to hard R&B and rock ’n’ roll?  Nothing if you love that style or music.  A lot if you wanted to know about the man who wrote and played the tunes or the derivation of some of the songs.

FIVE GUYS NAMED MOE is a jukebox musical.  It’s a review, with a razor thin plot that mainly serves as a device to bridge the songs together.  The little bit of dialogue does not develop a real story line, such as is found in PIPPIN, KINKY BOOTS or DIRTY DANCING, which will soon appear on Playhouse Square stages.  It is basically irrelevant as can be spotlighted by deviances from the script, which take place during the ad lib and audience inclusion segments of the staging.

The present version of the show is an update of the 1992 Broadway musical written by Clarke Peters which ran 445 performances and was nominated as Best Book of a Musical.  It lost to FALSETTOS.

The audience enters the Allen Theatre to find the proscenium curtain closed, music playing, supposedly from an old tube model radio placed center stage.  Nomax (Kevin McAllister) wanders on stage, in what proves to be a drunken stupor, sings “Early in the Morning,” relating how his “woman” has rejected him due to his drinking and irresponsibility.  As he wallows in his self-pity, the Moes: Big Moe, Little Moe, Four Eyed Moe, No Moe, and Eat Moe, “jump” out of the radio.  Actually the curtain opens to reveal the singers, orchestra, and an eye appealing set consisting of two lighted staircases with a bridge between them, and a large electronic “MOE” sign.

The quintet try to convince Nomax to, “Beware, Brother, Beware,”or he will permanently lose his lady.  Songs such as “I Like ‘Em Fat Like That” and “Messy Bessy” don’t do the convincing, but they are entertaining.  Other songs include, “Knock Me A Kiss,” “Push Ka Pi Shi Pie (with a Calypso beat and a Congo line of audience volunteers), “Safe, Sane and Single” (a definite audience favorite), “Let the Good Times Roll” (featuring tap dancing), and “Caldonia (more audience participation).

The cast was universally good.  The individual singing of Sheldon Henry (Big Moe), Jobari Parker-Namdar (No Moe), Travis Porchia (Four-Eyed Moe), Clinton Roane (Little Moe) and Paris Nix (Eat Moe) was on key and the quintet’s vocal blends were excellent.  Nix excelled in his song styling and dancing, and his splits awed the audience.

Kevin McAllister, he of bloodshot eyes, drooping lips, and stumbling step was delightful and in consistent character as Nomax.  He probably has the best voice of the singers.

Robert O’Hara directed, Darryl G. Ivey was the musical director, Byron Easley choreographed, Clint Ramos conceived the set, Dede Ayite designed the costumes, Alex Jainchill created the lighting plan and Lindsay Jones was the sound designer.

To keep with the era, the cast wears classic clothing and sings into old time microphones.

FIVE GUYS NAMED MOE  is a co-Cleveland Play House and Washington, DC’s Arena Stage production.  According to Laura Kepley, CPH’s Artistic Director, CPH personnel, including her, went to DC to work on the staging and design of the production.  The band at the local staging, with the exception of the musical director, is made up of Cleveland performers.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT:  If you like the jazz and blues musical stylings of Louis Jordan, you’ll enjoy FIVE GUYS NAMED MOE.  If, on the other hand, you desire a musical with a storyline, with songs and productions numbers that develop that tale, then you will probably join those who left at intermission.  Me, I’m a storyline kind of guy! 

FIVE GUYS NAMED MOE runs through February 15, 2015, at the Allen Theatre in PlayhouseSquare.  For tickets call 216-241-6000 or go to