Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Ebony Repertory Theatre's 'Five Guys Named Moe' Is So Good It Leaves You Wanting Moe

Foreground: Obba Babatunde, (l-r) Octavius Womack, Rogelio Douglas Jr.,
Eric B. Anthony, Jacques C. Smith and Trevon Davis
By Darlene Donloe

There are a few things askew with the Ebony Repertory Theatre’s latest production of Five Guys Named Moe, a revival currently playing through June 11, at the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center. First, Obba Babatunde, who is always a joy to watch when he makes it do what it do onstage, doesn’t sing enough. Second, Obba Babatunde doesn’t dance enough.  Third, Obba Babatunde doesn’t sing or dance enough. Oh, the humanity!

An Emmy Award-winner, Babatunde, the show’s headliner, is always a consistent audience favorite, but, in this show, the Five Guys Named Moe are front and center.

The veteran song and dance man, known for his exuberant dancing and infectious smile, steps away from his wheelhouse, leaving most of the dancing and singing to five fantastic actors who play the Five Guys.

In the show Babatunde plays a guy named Nomax, who is, well, a drunk. Babatunde knocks it out the park.  If one didn’t know any better, one would think he had thrown back a couple of shots before taking the stage. Kudos!

Obba Babatunde

It really doesn’t get any better than this. Five Guys Named Moe, directed and choreographed by Keith Young and written by Clarke Peters (Treme, The Wire) 25 years ago, is a high-energy production that keeps audiences swinging, swaying and sometimes singing in their seats.

It’s a full-blown celebration of Louis Jordan’s music. A pioneering singer, saxophonist and bandleader, Jordan came to be known as The King of the Jukebox. The show features more than 20 famous hits that he either wrote or helped to make famous.

The Tony nominated musical opens up with Nomax coming home drunk from a night on the town. He turns on the radio just in time to hear Jordan’s Early In The Morning warbling through the speakers. But, to his surprise, Five Guys Named Moe jump out of the radio in order to show him the error of his ways. He’s a drunk who has lost Lorraine, the love of his life. We never see Lorraine, although she’s referenced several times throughout the show.

Through song and dance the Five Guys show Nomax how to go about getting his life in order and possibly getting Lorraine back. At first Nomax is reluctant to change because he doesn’t actually think he has a drinking problem. Slowly, but surely, the Five Guys bring him around.

The Five Guys Named Moe includes Jacques C. Smith (No Moe), Octavius Womack (Big Moe), Trevon Davis (Little Moe), Rogelio Douglas, Jr. (Four-Eyed Moe) and Eric B Anthony (Eat Moe).  These are five of the baddest, harmonious cats around. Five distinctive voices that easily blend as one, bring the infectious music to life.  Each actor has a chance to display his vocal chops via solos that can rival any Broadway performances.

The story, of course, is told through the vitality of the singing. These actors ‘sell it’ with every

Rogelio Douglas Jr.’s rendition of Azure-Te, reminiscent of Nat King Cole’s version, is so luscious and dreamy it melts in your ears.  He is hilarious in a scene with Eric B. Anthony and Trevon Davis when all three are dressed as chickens while singing the hysterical Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens. The scene is worth the price of admission.

Octavius Womack kills on the jumpin’ and jivin’ Caldonia, which quickly becomes a call and response little ditty with the audience.

Eric B. Anthony’s Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Crying is impressive.

Trevon Davis, who looks like a young Marvin Gaye, gets the audience going with I Like ‘Em Fat Like That.

Jacques C. Smith makes his presence known with the bouncy, Messy Bessy.

While each Moe is impressive as a solo, it’s when they harmonize that the flavor of the music shines through. Choo Choo ChBoogie, Push Ka Pi Shi Pie and, of course, Five Guys Named Moe are crowd pleasers.

When the quintet sings the haunting, Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby?, it nearly brings down the house.

All of the songs make you feel. Whether they’re romantic, playful, naughty, exuberant or comical, each song brings out the show’s rich texture.  Although Five Guys is staged in a 399-seat theater, Young manages to create intimate moments throughout, allowing the audience to feel like part of the show.

The ensemble is backed by a kickin’ live six-piece band helmed by music director Abdul Hamid Royal, who was also the music director of the original Broadway production.

The carefree liveliness of Young’s choreography keeps the show moving forward. He directs an outstanding cast with fluid movement and solid pacing that effortlessly flows from one song into the next.

Edward E. Haynes. Jr.’s scenic design handsomely frames the set – especially the screen images used during the Azure-Te scene, as well as the staging for the Club Alabam.

What makes this production so great is that everyone in this show looks like they were having fun.  This top-notch cast will leave you satisfied and entertained.

Kudos to everyone involved with this delicious creation. Don’t walk, Be Bop your way to see Five Guys Named Moe! Don’t delay, it’s closing June 11.

Five Guys Named Moe, written by Clarke Peters, directed by Keith Young, featuring the greatest hits of Louis Jordan, stars Obba Babatunde, Eric B. Anthony, Trevon Davis, Rogelio Douglas Jr., Jacques C. Smith and Octavius Womack. 

Five Guys Named Moe, Ebony Repertory Theatre, Nate Holden Performing Arts Center, 4718 W. Washington Blvd., Los Angeles, 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays; ends June 11, Tickets: $30-$55, Information: (323) 964-9766 or ebonyrep.org.

Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes

ON THE DONLOE SCALE: D (don’t bother), O (oh, no), N (needs work), L (likeable), O (oh, yeah) and E (exceptional), Five Guys Named Moe gets an E (exceptional).

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