Sunday, 17 September 2017

Five Guys Named Moe – Marble Arch Theatre

Five Guys Named Moe is a 1990 musical based on the music of Louis Jordan, a musician and songwriter often crowned the king of jazz, who had a huge influence on music genres such as Rhythm & Blues and Rock & Roll.

This revival is housed in purpose-built new pop-up venue, Marble Arch Theatre. From the outset, it is an immersive experience, with the bar area transporting you to a 1940s New Orleans jazz club. The club parallel doesn't end here; the performance space is situated within a circular tent, with the main stage extending to a raised ring around the central audience. Although this section of the audience get the true jazz club experience being seated around tables, the remainder of the audience that spiral around the edges get a much more inclusive view of the space.

The plot, which is secondary to almost every other element of the show, presents Nomax (Edward Baruwa) as he is confronted by five strangers about his living habits and the way he has treated ‘his lady’. On one evening of heavy drinking, Know Moe (Dex Lee), Big Moe (Horace Oliver), Four-Eyed Moe (Ian Carlyle), Little Moe (Idriss Kargbo) and Eat Moe (Emile Ruddock) climb out of Nomax’s radio, an all-singing, all-dancing quintet that proceed to teach Nomax several life lessons through song. In short, it’s one big party. 

The beginning is a little slow off the ground, with a few too many inaudible lines adding to the initial confusion. As the five distinct characters are established through song, the pace begins to pick up, with the introduction audience interaction giving the performers the atmosphere they need to thrive in the space. In addition to audience participation through song, the Moes seamlessly bring audience members onto the stage throughout the show, ensuring that these moments of potential awkwardness are in fact some of the best and funniest sequences of the evening. 

Act two segments off ‘The Cabaret’, as Nomax is placed in the audience and the five Moes roll off song after song at the ‘Funky Butt Club’. This true performance-led portion sees the show really own what it is all about: fun music and playful choreography. But this is no ordinary cabaret performance, and all five actors deliver a consistently high-energy spectacle, packed with irresistible vocals and striking movement.

Although Nomax’s layer of plot provides a narrative framework to allow for much of the music, and Edward Baruwa’s portrayal of the troubled character is by far the deepest and most intriguing, the show would benefit from leaving the story behind sooner. Supposedly the five Moes are teaching Nomax a lesson, but this message is convoluted and acutely overshadowed by the strength of the performance itself. And it's true what they say, ain't no party like a five guys party...

*I was gifted this ticket in exchange for a review, but all words and opinions are my own.

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