By Dale King
The Broward Stage Door Theatre celebrates the holiday season and New Year with Five Guys Named Moe, a high-octane, high-stepping, song-and-dance-filled tribute to song master Louis Jordan, whose talent for diversity in music drove the golden spike in the track connecting swing and jazz with early rock ’n’ roll.
The production that literally shakes the stage floor at the Coral Springs venue combines the best of the Jordan songbook with melodies composed by a bevy of other writers who tipped their chapeaux to the black songsters and hoofers of the 1930s and 1940s. The 26-song musical opened in mid-December and is still pulling in large crowds as it approaches its final play date Jan. 18.
The five “Moes” — Big Moe, Four-Eyed Moe, No Moe, Eat Moe and Little Moe — arrive out of the ether in color-blinding zoot suits to help troubled Nomax solve his life problems. He has forgotten his girlfriend’s birthday, and is trying to drown his troubles in a pool of Jack Daniel’s. Like guardian angels, the Moes show up with a set of tunes designed to pull Nomax out of his downward spin. Of course, songs like “Pettin’ and Pokin,’” “Dad Gum Ya Hide Boy” and “Let the Good Times Roll” don’t always hit that righteous goal.
That’s the joy of this wonderful, light-hearted production with live music and lots of fine vocals and fancy footwork. The songs touch on various subjects, not all of them considered advice to the lovelorn. There are some touching ballads, one calypso number and a bunch of tunes spiced with down-home messages.
While the show, which premiered in Britain in 1990, draws heavily on the works of Louis Jordan, it also features works of many of his contemporaries. Jordan was highly popular with both black and white audiences from the later years of the swing to rock’s birth in the early ‘50s. After Duke Ellington and Count Basie, Jordan, who died in 1975, was probably the most popular and successful African-American bandleader of his day.
Broward Stage gets its “Five Moe” groove on by attracting a superb sextet of performers who put their all into the show. And their “all” is a lot of talent spread over a variety of entertainment fields.
Christopher George Patterson, who plays No Moe, is also the musical’s choreographer and director, aided by assistant director/choreographer Walter Kemp-Edwards. With his blazing, fire-engine red pants and frenetic style of dancing — including some exceptional tap steps — he takes the lead on such songs as “Messy Bessy” and “Reet, Petite and Gone,” drawn from one of Jordan’s films. Patterson is also a writer (“Dance, Bojangles, Dance”) and has performed on Broadway
“Five Guys” gives Phillip Bolton a chance to live large as Big Moe, who croons the cautionary “Beware, Brother, Beware” and a melancholy “What’s the Use of Getting Sober (If You’re Going to Get Drunk Again)?” He cuts loose with “Caldonia” (actually written by Fleecie Moore), getting so ecstatic that he pulls a James Brown move, tossing off a gold-colored robe wrapped around his shoulders.
Micah Jeremiah Mims is outstanding as Four-Eyed Moe — a role played with large, black-rimmed glasses. He doffs the specs to sing the moody “Azure Te” and “Look Out, Sister,” which requires a couple of ladies from the audience to join him at the stage.
Little Moe is given life by Daryl L. Stewart. He’s a character who clearly has the blues — if you believe the super cool color of his pants. He easily fronts a number of great tunes such as “I Like ’em Fat Like That,” “Saturday Night Fish Fry,” with its nod to partying, New Orleans-style, and “Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens,” which gives the Moes a license to cut up using hen outfits and stuffed puppets.
Don Seward is Eat Moe, and when he’s not talking about food or ogling a chocolate cake from Lomax’s refrigerator, he steps to center stage on “Life Is So Peculiar,” “Knock Me a Kiss” and “Let the Good Times Roll.”
Nomax, portrayed with sly appeal by Brandon Hanks, doesn’t just sit back and watch the show unfold in his pad. He shows off his rich, smooth voice on “I Know What I’ve Got” and “If I Had Any Sense, I’d Go Back Home.” Hanks’ character is troubled, but not enough to be overtaken by the colorful song and dance men.
The Moes are excellent both as soloists and all together. In ensemble mode, they present top notch renditions of “Safe, Sane and Single,” “Hurry Home,” the “Is You Is or Is You Ain’t?” medley and the maraca-shaking calypso tune, “Push Ka Pi Shi Pie.”
Superbly backing the performers is a talented trio that includes musical director-pianist Michael Larsen, bass player Martha Spangler and drummer Jeff Renza, who look down from their bandstand overlooking Nomax’s apartment. Set designer Michael McClain has done well to keep the staging tight while giving the Moes sufficient room to perform.
Five Guys Named Moe plays through Jan. 18 at the Broward Stage Door Theatre, 8036 W. Sample Road, Coral Springs. For tickets, call 954-344-7765.