By Mary Boyle
Most people have heard of Louis Armstrong, the trumpet-playing composer and vocalist who nearly defined the Jazz Age of the 20's, 30's, and 40's, but the name Louis Jordan may not be as familiar. Born in 1908 in Brinkley, Arkansas, Jordan was raised by his father, a music teacher and bandleader, and grew up to score 18 number one hit records in the 1940's, laying the foundation for R&B, modern blues, and rockabilly music, and recording with the likes of Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, and the great Louis Armstrong, himself. Jordan's music, and the music of his age, are the focus of the 1992 Broadway Musical by Clarke Peters, Five Guys Named Moe, which makes its way to the Cabot Theatre stage courtesy of Skylight Music Theatre.
Nomax (Gavin Lawrence) has the blues. His girlfriend left him because he treated her poorly, but the Five Guys Named Moe — Eat Moe (Sean Anthony Jackson), Big Moe (Lorenzo Rush, Jr.), Four-Eyed Moe (James Carrington), Little Moe (Kevin James Sievert), and No Moe (Shawn Holmes) — appear to teach him a lesson in songs before they go on to their gig at the Funky Butt Club, performing big band classics such as "Let the Good Times Roll," "Ain't Nobody Here But Us Chickens," "Choo Choo Ch'Boogie," and "Is You Is Or Is You Ain't My Baby?"
A regular on the Skylight stage, James Carrington (Four-Eyed Moe) was seen last season in Hot Mikado, Annie and Urinetown, as well as playing the lion in The Wiz at First Stage, and always brings a comedic, lovable charm, along with a great voice. Kevin James Sievert (Little Moe), who also appeared in Hot Mikado and Urinetown, is always fun to watch. Sean Anthony Jackson (Eat Moe) is another regular at Skylight, and Shawn Holmes (No Moe) performs regularly on stages throughout Wisconsin. Gavin Lawrence, who just finished his third season at APT, is well-cast as Nomax, but it's Lorenzo Rush Jr. as Big Moe, making his Skylight debut, who really steals the show and commands the attention of the audience.
With Stage Direction by Malkia Stampley and Music Direction by Christie Chiles Twillie, Five Guys is, in a single word, fun. The premise of the story is a bit shaky, and the production has more of an intimate Cabaret feel than a big Broadway show, but all six men on stage are talented vocalists and performers having a great time, and their enthusiasm is contagious! Jordan's music was sometimes referred to as "jump blues," and it isn't hard to see why — the big band sound, created by just five musicians on stage — makes you wish you could clear the seats of the Cabot and get up and dance, but the Moes have plenty of fancy footwork of their own. Audience participation is required and, when the balance is right, it isn't hard to imagine you're at the Savoy Ballroom in New York in the 1940's, steaming up a cold winter night with music, dancing, and a little something to drink.
Five Guys Named Moe runs through February 10th at the Cabot Theatre, located within the Broadway Theatre Center at 158 N. Broadway in Milwaukee's Historic Third Ward. Tickets may be purchased in person at the Broadway Theatre Center BoxOffice, 158 N. Broadway, by calling (414) 291-7800, or visiting www.skylightmusictheatre.org
About Skylight Music Theatre
Skylight Music Theatre's mission since 1959: To bring the full spectrum of music theatre works to a wide and diverse audience, in celebration of the musical and theatrical arts and their reflection of the human condition. Skylight presents productions "Skylight Style" – bringing fresh approaches or interesting twists to music theatre works, creating meaningful connections, not only between the characters on stage, but with the audience, as well.