Thursday, 21 September 2017

REVIEW: Five Guys Names Moe at the Marble Arch Theatre

Five Guys Named Moe has been seen in London several times, most recently in 2012 back where it began at Stratford East. This new production of Clarke Peters’ musical based on the music of jazz crossover star Louis Jordan, now helmed by its creator, finds a fantastic home in Underbelly's popular spiegeltent recently relocated and rechristened the Marble Arch Theatre. 

It must be said that the plot of this classic juke box musical is light on the ground; the central character Nomax (Edward Baruwa) has ‘woman troubles’, and has turned to drink to deal with his shortcomings. In an alcohol induced miasma, five Moes – Four-Eyed, Little, Know, Big and Eat Moe – pop out of Nomax’s radio to counsel, encourage and school him in life and love. There isn't much more depth to it than that but in this intimate set up it feels easy to accept this show for what it is; more upbeat concert than storytelling.

Choreographer and musical stager Andrew Wright puts together one rollicking number after another. The choreography, with some detectable nods to Fosse, is second to none and the energy never falters. Of the dapper, colourful Moes, Idriss Kargbo as Little Moe consistently stands out. His brightness, energy and effervescence abound whether he is leading numbers – like the bouncy ‘I Like ‘Em Fat Like That!’ – or supporting. Emile Ruddock has a great warmth and charm as Eat Moe, and Dex Lee and Ian Carlyle lead the pack well as Know and Four-Eyed Moe respectively. Horace Oliver as Big Moe is rather subdued by comparison; he just isn’t quite big enough. None of the cast shy away from the obligatory audience interaction, though, and they all dance Wright’s demanding choreography with zeal.

The six-strong band are well drilled, and Takis’ economic set and costumes make the most of the space – a revolving walkway circles round the house, the walls are decked with images of a jazz age New Orleans. Philip Gladwell’s striking lighting design brings the Moes’ buoyant world to life. 

Peters’ production here embraces the cabaret style setting, and makes it a real asset for the show bringing it a whole new level of play and enjoyment. 

For all its high energy and top notch execution, this production seems to lack a central heart. There is no real emotional intensity at the core of this show, resulting in a lack of drive for the audience to invest in Nomax’s story. In some respects, it is beginning to show its age and this ultimately leaves a somewhat cold feeling beneath all the superficial fun and laughter.

While not quite the ‘immersive’ show it is billed as, the whole evening is a curated experience from the moment you step through the doors at Marble Arch. Themed cocktails, a house band, and d├ęcor that transports you to New Orleans set the tone for what becomes a well-put-together Good Night Out designed to ensure you spend as much time at the bar as you do in your seat.

Review by James Andrews

Rating: ★★★
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