Let me preface all of this by stating that I do not particularly enjoy musicals where plot subordinates the music. I like driving stories and forward momentum. CATCO’s freshly opened Five Guys Named Moe falls into the questionable plot category, but the music, vocals, and style transcends that issue to create a rocking show most audiences will love.
Five Guys Named Moe centers on the songs by band leader, songwriter, and saxophonist Louis Jordan. The lights rise to a young Nomax lamenting over his lost girlfriend and his inability to locate her with the song “Early in the Morning.” Unexplained and out of nowhere, five guys named Moe, a talented quintet, suddenly appear. They sing songs to Nomax that seek to console and guide him, but which more seem to confuse and annoy him than help. He complains about them singing and then joins them in their song. Ultimately, the Moes obviously break through to the hard-headed Nomax and he reconciles with his girlfriend and admits his love for her, though the first song implies that he loves her anyway.
Note, all of these complaints are about the script—not this particular production. CATCO does a fine job with the show they selected. That said, the music can stand without the hastily weaved story and poor dialogue, since the show feels more like a concert with a loose through line than a theatrical musical. Let’s face it, the audience comes for the songs.
A tip of the hat and a deep bow to the fantastic band that grounded this show: Matt Clemens (conductor/keyboard), Zach Compston (drums), Ryan Hamilton (trombone), Ben Huntoon (trumpet), Brian Lang (saxophone), and David Wolbert (bass). It truly feels like a conversation between the singers and the band throughout most of the show—a great dynamic.
The singers (the Moes and Nomax) each stand out as individuals and melt the audience’s hearts with their honey-like harmonization, especially with the closing medley. Kevin Ferguson’s sweetly passionate vocals as Nomax offer a welcomed, quieter break from the full ensemble songs. The Moes: Japheal Bondurant, Terrence Brian Brown, Franklin Grace, Troy Anthony Harris, and LaRon Lee Hudson work so well as a unit, they almost, as the Moes sing, are indeed the greatest band around. Extraordinary songs include Bondurant’s rendition of “Don’t Let the Sun Catch you Crying” and Brown’s “Messy Bessy.” Also, Hudson’s perfect poultry imitation in “Ain’t Nobody Here but us Chickens” will surely prove a crowd favorite. Truth told, all of the songs sound wonderful, leaving the audience tapping their toes well after they leave the theater.
Director Steven Anderson clearly put a lot of heart and soul into this show by ensuring polished pieces and unified dance moves. Also, Anderson shows careful attention to the space, ensuring the performers work each side of the arena-style Studio 2, which could make every seat good, but the lighting caters to the center section as does the set. Michael S. Brewer and Edith Dinger Wadkins create more beautiful scenic work for this production. The sound mixing held back a bit on opening night, with the band tending to drown out the singers. Hopefully, they fix that issue during the course of the run, because Five Guys Named Moe could almost literally blow people away.
I suppose I can acknowledge the reasons Clarke Peters threw a story to these songs. Though small and not well illustrated, we do see a transformation in Nomax due to the Moes. Perhaps, he wants to show the power music maintains to influence our decisions, alter our emotions and change our lives. Maybe he wishes to illustrate Louis Jordan’s ability shape genres and mold music. However, grandiose purposes probably do not matter in this case. Go see the show; the music is a lot of fun.
Five Guys Named Moe plays through May 26 at Studio Two in the Vern Riffe Center, 77 S. High Street. Thurs-Sat at 8 pm; Sun at 2 pm; Wed at 11 am. General Admission is $41.00 on Thurs. and Sun.; $45.00 on Fri. and Sat.
More information can be found online at www.catco.org.