FIVE GUYS NAMED MOE | London, The Marble Arch Theatre‎

Imagine if five black chorus boys escaped from a Bob Fosse number (think “Roxy”, Chicago) and started their own spiegeltent cabaret based exclusively on the songs of Louis Jordan: that should give you an idea of what lies in store at the brand new in-the-round Marble Arch Theatre.

Ostensibly a musical-dance cabaret (including Louis Jordan’s classics “There Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens” and “Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby”), there is a framing device of young man Nomax (Edward Baruwa), struggling with alcohol and unable to hold down his girl. The charming, besuited “Five Guys Named Moe” appear from nowhere, spirits of the radio perhaps, and at first direct their songs towards Nomax as ways for him to learn about women. This initial attempt at framing the songs is more or less dispensed with by the second act, which becomes pure sequinned bow tie and tails cabaret.

The dance is non-stop and wild from all five Moes. It is also incredibly camp. In one song, why do all the Moes stop and poise, statuesque, with animated Fosse clicks over a dramatic underlight? Much of the choreography from the all-male cast appears to be glorifying the Moes, rather than the women they sing about. Great eye candy for women and gay men in the audience, but serving no greater drama. Idriss Kargbo is the stand out performer as Little Moe, every move charged with energy, even in a gigantic fruit hat.

Despite the eye-popping musical staging and choreography (Andrew Wright), the audience participation, the close harmony and the live jive band, the show is not without its problems. All the Moes move and act the same, leading to homogenous “chorus” style characterisation. The essentially plotless show lacks drive. Perhaps the most uncomfortable of all is to sit in a predominantly white audience, watching black men sassily click their fingers, whine, “Say whaaaaat?” and struggle with women and alcoholism. But the roaring standing ovation from the packed house suggests this 1990 jukebox musical has got another hit revival.

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