Five Guys Named Moe review

Theatre, Musicals
3 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

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Giddily enjoyable but rather padded revival of the jukebox jazz classic

Way before 'The Wire' made him a household name as an actor, Clarke Peters had another life as the creator of 'Five Guys Named Moe’. Long predating the mid-tier burger chain, it was a smash hit musical based around the songs of jazzer Louis Jordan. Initially a smash in 1990, it had all of the fizz and none of the cynicism of the jukebox musicals that would follow in its wake.

It had a sort of medium-sized revival in 2010, with Peters himself playing the role of boozy protagonist Nomax. Now it's back in just about the most maximalist revival you could imagine: in its own faux-New Orleans jazz joint-style pop-up venue (Marble Arch Theatre), with a lavish in-the-round staging courtesy of Peters, who directs this time.

It’s the show's biggest weakness and strongest suit that it has virtually no plot. Nomax (Edward Baruwa) is a whiskey-gargling loser whose life is in a rye-soaked downward spiral. One night he's listening to the radio, pissed, when Five Guys who are indeed named Moe appear, and basically sing Louis Jordan songs a at him until Nomax agrees to mend his ways.

That's pretty much it, and why the hell not: it's a perfectly reasonable excuse to break out a bunch of Jordan's surgingly high energy, often amusing proto-R&B jams to the accompaniment of a shit-hot live band. Where most jukebox musicals are predicated on the idea that the audience knows the songs already, 'Five Guys...' takes the rather more radical idea that the songs – of which only ‘Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby’ remains truly famous – will win over an unfamiliar audience with sheer kinetic ebullience. Toss in some balletic moves, killer quips, and a fine ensemble {Ian Carlyle, Idriss Kargbo, Dex Lee, Horace Oliver and Emile Ruddock are the Moes) - not to mention the potent Hurricane cocktails being proffered at the bar - and you've a recipe for some serious fun.

But lordy, this thing has more padding than a cotton wool factory. Running considerably longer than the grittier 2010 incarnation, there are moments when Peters's production absolutely shamelessly vamps for time. Most of them involve audience participation: the pre-interval calypso number - which we're handed out lyric sheets to - seriously goes on for what feels like half an hour; around the stated finish time, several women are hauled up from the audience for an almost impressively aimless bit of patter. Perhaps this business has made me cynical, but it feels to me that the show has been bulked out to justify a higher ticket price to cover the fancy venue costs. And in a sense that’s fine: ‘Five Guys…’ barely had a plot to begin with – three Hurricanes down and you’ll probably be delighted that they’ve found a way to drag out the good vibes. The venue is lovely. The drinks are excellent. It’s a corrective to the twee whiteness of half the musicals that wash up in the West End. But it does feel that poor Nomax's story is rather drowned out by the boutiquey bells and whistles.

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