It begins with an ordinary guy, nursing his blues while singing “Early in the Morning,” a song that lets us know he is lovesick and clueless, and was recently dumped by his girlfriend.
‘FIVE GUYS NAMED MOE’
When: Through Oct. 8
Where: Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis
Tickets: $44 – $74
Run time: 2 hours, with one intermission
The guy, named Nomax, also happens to be seated beside a giant console radio that instantly signals we are in the Swing Era, and that the overall tempo of life will shift into a spirit of wildly infectious optimism. And so it does, as “Five Guys Named Moe” lights up the stage of the Court Theatre with this irresistibly joyful, downright hilarious, all too rarely revived 1990 musical devised by Clarke Peters and featuring the wonderfully antic songs of Louis Jordan, the saxophonist/songwriter/bandleader who was so popular from the late 1930s to the early 1950s that he was dubbed “The King of the Jukebox.” (The show’s two-dozen-strong song list also includes gems by Jon Hendricks, Johnny Burke and Jimmy Van Heusen and many others.)
The very definition of pure, unadulterated theatrical fun, “Five Guys” leaves the audience in a palpable state of elation. And the Court production — directed with droll, giddy-making exuberance by Ron OJ Parson, driven by the superb music direction by Abdul Hamid Royal (with help from such mega-talents as Felicia P. Fields, Jeremy Ramey and choreographer Christopher Carter, whose zany dance sequences have a language all their own) —- is nothing less than an instant mood enhancer.
Of course I’ve saved the best for last. The “five guys” of the title are a well-practiced cabaret act who have little patience with the self-pitying Nomax (well-played by Stephen “Blu” Allen), and subject him to a not-so-sentimental education in sex and romance. The actors at Court are absolutely phenomenal and have the audience in stitches from the moment they clamber out of that console radio and proceed to teach this lost soul some crucial lessons about dealing with the opposite sex.
The “Moes,” who come in every size, shape and disposition, are spectacular singers, dancers and comedians, and possess the sort of firecracker energy that makes you hope there is an oxygen machine in the wings. They include: Big Moe (Lorenzo Rush Jr., a giant of a fellow who is as graceful as Nijinsky); Eat Moe (James Earl Jones II, the man of compelling appetite whose mad dance moves bring the house down); Four Eyed Moe (Kelvin Roston Jr., the bespectacled fellow with the crooning voice); the fleet charmer Little Moe (Darrian Ford); and No Moe (Eric A. Lewis, a crackerjack dancer with a sassy edge and gasp-inducing splits).
These five genius performers harmonize as if they’ve been singing together for years, and they play off each others’ mischievous ways with uncanny timing, bringing the undeniable hipster vibe of Jordan’s brilliant lyrics and impossibly catchy rhythms (from jazz to calypso) to vivid life. Jordan has been credited with paving the way for jazz to morph into rock and roll, and his clever, satirical lyrics can now sound like a forerunner of hip-hop. But take these great comic patter songs (and ballads) for what they are, and for how they also bring to mind the work of Fats Waller, who was celebrated in a similar sort of musical/revue, “Ain’t Misbehavin’.”
And yes, the first half of the show suggests the deceptions and traps women can set for men (in such songs as “Beware, Brother, Beware,” Pettin’ and Pokin’,” “Safe, Sane & Single,” and the affectionate “I Like ’em Fat Like That”), but the second act gives equal time to male deception and chicanery.
And did I mention “Push Ka Pi Shi Pie,” a calypso sing-along and conga line that leads the crowd into the lobby at intermission? Or “Caldonia,” which asks: “What makes your big head so hard?” Trust me, you just have to be there.