Five Guys Named Moe review at Marble Arch Theatre, London – ‘a scorching revival’
It ain’t easy, just off grimy Oxford Street on a chilly September night, to imagine you’re in sultry New Orleans. But this revival of the 1990 revue celebrating legendary “jukebox king” Louis Jordan sure generates some heat.
Directed by its creator Clarke Peters (better known nowadays for The Wire), it’s performed in a custom designed pop-up theatre that perches, in all its lightbulb-blazing, incongruous glamour, next to Marble Arch tube station. The venue is a 600-seat spiegeltent with ornate, Southern-style wrought-iron columns and a bar where you can sip a mint julep or bourbon sour. Inside, those nearest the stage sit at tables, cabaret-style; a revolving catwalk brings the six performers close enough to allow pretty much anyone else in the stalls to count every bead of sweat.
And sweat they do, because if Five Guys Named Moe is unashamedly a flimsy, feelgood show, this is a scorching production. Slick and stylish, it’s thrillingly alive to the wit and energy of Jordan’s hits – jazzy numbers that croon and swing, and that set the pace for the emergence of R’n’B and rock’n’roll. The band are as tight as a pair of shiny new shoes. And the singing and dancing is sublime.
Edward Baruwa plays Nomax, a hard-drinking stumblebum whose woman has thrown him out. He’s alone and wallowing in boozy self-pity, when the five sharp-dressed members of a musical combo magically emerge from his radio: Four-Eyed Moe, Little Moe, Know Moe, Big Moe and Eat Moe. They’ve come to offer relationship advice in song. What follows is a smart-talking, heart-warming six-way bromance, and an exuberant tribute to the healing power of music.
That’s it, plot-wise, but who cares when it all looks and sounds this good? The cast wrap gorgeous vocals around Jordan’s melodies – sweet as molasses, or tender and blue as a bruise – while Andrew Wright’s athletic choreography foot-stomps, shoulder-shimmies, spins and leaps from one sizzling moment to the next. There are sassy numbers soaked in sex (Messy Bessy), slow-burn, lovelorn laments (What’s the Use of Getting Sober?), and explosions of sheer, wacky joy (Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens, or Choo Choo Ch-Boogie, featuring a top hat that turns into a train funnel complete with steam).
Baruwa is rueful, rumpled, and likably irascible as Nomax, and Idriss Kargbo as Little Moe is a phenomenal dancer, but everyone on stage has charisma to burn.
The genially enforced audience participation – a singalong and conga line – is too protracted, and the second act could use a trim. But as sheer entertainment, this the show triumphantly succeeds – and the talent on display is red-hot.