‘Five Guys’ jazzes up a Broadway standard

‘Five Guys’ jazzes up a Broadway standard

By Jordan Wright (Photo/C. Stanley Photography)

When asked to produce a musical for the first time in his career, award-winning director and playwright Robert O’Hara decided to take a fresh approach to the genre in Arena Stage’s production of “Five Guys Named Moe.”

Showcasing songwriter and saxophonist Louis Jordan’s “new” jazz sound, music written specifically for the show and other notably sassy songs from the era, O’Hara chose to update the show by channeling the success of the “boy band.” The new production presents a new dynamic to the popular show with crack dance routines, a crop of snappy singers and a razzle-dazzle pace that gets the audience dancing in their seats — and onstage too.

The revue tells the story of Nomax, a young man whose gal has left him high and dry. For comfort, Nomax turns to his old Zenith radio and a bottle of hooch. In his lonely stupor the broadcasts come to life and he finds himself in the company of five jamming and jiving entertainers dressed in sharkskin suits and brocade jackets ready to take him to the “Saturday Night Fish Fry.”

Lit by neon-colored twin staircases that rise above the stage-level live orchestra, the “Moes” try to cheer up the hapless fellow with song and dance routines strung together from hit tunes of the 1940s. They take him to the Funky Butt Club where there’s a whole lot of shimmyin’, shakin’ and tappin’ going on. The guys trade licks in a whirlwind of dance styles from Maurice Hines to NSYNC to Gene Kelly, with a few Magic Mike moves thrown in for good measure.

The super talented cast consists of Jobari Parker-Namdar as No Moe, Sheldon Henry as Big Moe, Clinton Roane as Little Moe, Travis Porchia as Four-Eyed Moe, Kevin McAllister as Nomax and Paris Nix as Eat Moe. And there is no way to single anyone performer out for praise. Believe me, I tried.

In harmony, their rich voices blend together seamlessly, yet in solos, each has its own distinct style throughout the 25 numbers. Henry shows off a boogie-woogie rhythm in “Caldonia;” Parker-Namdar and Porchia tear the place down with their funky chicken in “Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens;” Parker-Namdar on “Reet, Petite and Gone;” Roane tells Nomax “I’m a chubby chaser!” in “I Like ‘Em Fat Like That;” and Nix shows off a soulful blues vibe in “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying.” And they all shine bright backed by the smoking-hot six-piece orchestra led by Darryl G. Ivey.

All aboard the “Choo Choo Ch’Boogie” with this “sepia symphonette.”

“Five Guys Named Moe” runs through December 28 at Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth St. SE, Washington, DC 20024.  For tickets and information call 202-488-3300 or visit www.arenastage.org.