By Sue Merrell
Everything about Mason Street Warehouse’s production of “Five Guys Named Moe” is bigger than life – from the high-enough-to-hide-an-actor boom box to a monster mama stick puppet who peeks in between the curtains. And the high-energy entertainment keeps building for two hours until the final medley is so big and powerful, it sounds like the room is going to explode.
Written by Clarke Peters (Lester Freamon to fans of HBO’s “The Wire”), the 1990 musical revue features the upbeat songs of Louis Jordan and other blues and jazz composers of the 1940s, presented by a rainbow-hued male quintet, with each member called some variation of Moe. Like a high-jumpin’, fast-movin’ basketball team of song, they put the full-court press on Nomax, a lonesome, foolish fellow who needs to get his act together and reclaim the woman he loves.
Okay, the plot is worse than weak and the show would probably be better off if somebody just pulled the thread, but thankfully the “story” doesn’t slow down the action much.
Director/choreographer D.J. Salisbury has put together a fast-paced show that seems to slide effortlessly from song to song, while highlighting the individual strengths and talents of each performer. They can move together as a synchronized ensemble, or stray way off into splits, back flips or just a sexy strut. Members are continuously wandering off stage and reemerging with a crazy prop or costume piece that fits into the song.
Four-Eyed Moe (Zachary D. McConnell), in his bright orange suit and orange glasses, dons a feathered hood when singing “Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens” in a high falsetto. Little Moe (Will Lee-Williams) is the most likely to add the splits or a back-flip to his dance routine, or go for the wide-eyed comic expression, which was especially effective in “I Like ’em Fat Like That.”
Lithe No Moe (Erick Pinnick) could wow the audience with his tap dance routine or act silly in a curly lion wig. Big Moe (Tony Perry) works well with the audience in the early “Beware, Brother, Beware” and leads audience participation in one of the best numbers of the evening, “Caledonia.” Eat Moe (Wayne Pretlow) keeps up the expected patter about food, but also nails the bluesy “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying,” which features a great sax solo.
Nomax may need the quintet’s advice on life, but the actor playing the role, Charles Lowery IV, needs no help in the voice department, giving excellent jazz stylings to the opening number, “Early in the Morning,” as well as “I Know What I’ve Got.”
With the prominent on-stage band and Rosanna Stewart’s colorful cityscape setting, the show feels more like a night club act than a play, and certainly it functions that way with several opportunities for interaction with the audience including a conga line at the end of Act I.
For me, the biggest surprise was the country hoedown interpretation of “Safe, Sane and Single,” which showed off the versatility of the cast while adding lots of fun.
What a wonderful way to end a fun day in Saugatuck.
‘Five Guys Named Moe’
Mason Street Warehouse, 400 Culver St., Saugatuck. Tuesday-Sunday through Aug. 7. $26-$39.75. 269-857-4898. http://www.masonstreetwarehouse.org