Chicago Theatre Review
‘Five Guys Named Moe’ a joyful, energetic tribute to Louis Jordan
Five Guys Named Moe – Court Theatre
Louis Jordan is the kind of musician whose influence far outstrips his fame. Despite being the fifth-most successful Black recording artist of the 20th century, Jordan’s music – a jazz/R&B hybrid that was pivotal to not only the evolution of rock, but also hip hop and rap – does not receive the mainstream recognition today that it deserves, so it’s very welcome that with the first show of its 2018-2018 season, Court Theatre is providing a necessary tribute with “Five Guys Named Moe.”
A musical revue from Clarke Peters (an actor best known for his roles in “The Wire” and “Treme”), the plot of “Five Guys” is fairly basic. Nomax (a delightful Stephen Allen), a lonely and heartbroken twentysomething, is listening to the radio late one night until he is suddenly transported into a jazz fairyland, one with five highly talented men who perform Jordan’s greatest hits while consulting Nomax on his problems (especially his romantic woes). So like most revues (“Ain’t Misbehavin'” being another), “Five Guys” does not offer much in the plot and character department, and that may bother some viewers; indeed, the characters exist more as excuses for Jordan’s wonderful music than they do for serious examination or development.
But what music! Under the ever-expert direction of Ron OJ Parson’s, the show’s five guys – Darrian Ford, James Earl Jones II, Eric Andrews Lewis, Kelvin Roston, Jr., and Lorenzo Rush, Jr. – stampede through nearly 30 of Jordan’s songs, which range from the whimsical, to the romantic, to the weary, to the playful and satirical. All the actors are thrilling to watch, though Lewis’ acrobatics and Rush’s gonzo energy won me over.
Also, particular praise must be heaped upon Chris Carter’s phenomenal choreography. It’s one thing to choreograph a show in a bright, fresh way, but an entirely different matter to do so in a way that simultaneously honors a period while jazzing it up for modern audiences. With their shuffling feet, synchronized movements, and highly entertaining gestures, the five guys’ movements are every bit as impressive as their singing, and being backed by a masterful jazz combo (under the direction of Abdul Hamid Royal) certainly does not hurt matters.
I look forward to every one of Parson’s productions with Court Theatre, and am happy to report that “Five Guys Named Moe” only continues his record of excellence with the august theater company.
Reviewed by Peter Thomas Ricci
Presented through Oct. 8 by Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis Ave., Chicago, IL 60637
Tickets are available by calling 773-753-4472 or by visiting http://www.courttheatre.org/.
Additional information about this and other spectacular area productions is available at the one, the only, the indefatigable www.theatreinchicago.com.