Review: Five Guys Named Moe (Marble Arch Theatre)

Clarke Peters’ rock and roll musical returns to London in a new staging directed by Peters himself

There’s not very much to the plot in Clarke Peters‘ musical Five Guys Named Moe. Five guys, all named Moe, inexplicably pop out of the radio of down-and-out, heartbroken, drunk Nomax and sing him songs with a view to straightening out his track record on romance. Not much plot, but goodness it’s got sass, soul and sex appeal.

The piece was built around the songs recorded and written by '40s rock and roll saxophonist Louis Jordan, which in the main are about how guys mess girls around and vice versa. There are a few comedy non-love tracks – "Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens" – thrown in for good measure. It feels a little odd calling Five Guys Named Moe a musical, it is more a rock and roll variety night where actors at the top of their game inject each song with drama in an enervating riff on a gig.

The numbers are the best sort of rhythm and blues, rock and roll classics – if you don’t know them you’ll be wiggling your toes – and maybe your hips – along to the beat, and if you do know them you’ll find it an absolute treat to hear them in this production. There’s a crack live band, led by Steve Hill and Sean Whittle, which helps to shine and buff these tunes, playing them hot and high-tempo in exactly the way they should be.

It’s the cast, too, who make this show really sing. Each Moe has a prefix – Four-eyed Moe (Ian Carlyle), Know Moe (Dex Lee), Big Moe (Horace Oliver), Little Moe (Idriss Kargbo) and Eat Moe (Emile Ruddock) – and each performer has their character down perfect. It’s a total joy watching them move, sing and dance, never off stage until the interval, with such manic energy. In each half every Moe gets a chance to sing their own song and they are all glorious. "Knock Me a Kiss" has the Moes going a cappella, while the performers' physical comedy brings out the humour in each of the tracks. Kargbo's astonishing protruding bum in "I Like 'Em Fat Like That!" is a wonder, while "Safe, Sane and Single" is full of satire, lost on Nomax, played suitably hang dog-like by Edward Barwuna.

Andrew Wright’s choreography is a marvel, keeping the ensemble at incredibly high tempo and astonishingly precise throughout and making the movement for each track unique. There are moments with costume, moments with props, and the use of the Marble Arch Theatre’s revolve means that the cast get up close to most of the crowd. There’s also a surprising amount of audience participation involved which adds to the pure entertainment factor of this night.

The second half settles for a slightly simpler format, as the Five Guys move from Nomax’s apartment to the Funky Butt Club, where they continue their set direct to us, this time as punters in the club. It’s a little contrived, but it makes you yearn for those smoky, rock and roll bars where music was played all night by the best performers around. Those joints may not exist anymore, but Five Guys Named Moe really does and it’s the closest you’re going to get to the real thing. "There ain't no party like a Five Guys party", the Moes sing at one point, and it's absolutely true. A night of total fun.

Five Guys Named Moe runs at the Marble Arch Theatre until February 17 2018.