Clarke Peters, Ashley Campbell, Chris Colquhoun, Carlton Connell, Paul Hazel, Horace Oliver
Best known now for his role as Lester Freamon in the ‘Best TV Series Ever Made’, Clarke Peters is also an accomplished stage actor. Here he brings his award-winning musical Five Guys Named Moe back to the Theatre Royal Stratford East, where it first premiered 20 years ago, for a triumphant anniversary run.
Like the laconic policeman he played in The Wire, Peters is a man of many talents – he also wrote the book for this musical, based around the songs of jazz legend Louis Jordan.
He plays Nomax, who – broke and broken hearted – gets pulled into the Technicolor world of Five Guys Named Moe, a quintet who aim to teach him the error of his ways. As a vehicle to hang a batch of songs on, the story is slight and the characterisation necessarily broad, but that doesn’t matter – this is sheer entertainment from start to finish.
From its clever and imaginative opener to its rousing finale, Moe simply never puts a foot wrong. A sharp, funny book has plenty of jokes and good lines, but it’s the music and the performances that are really joyous, sweeping the audience up in an infectious energy that literally had them conga-ing in the aisles.
The performers are uniformly excellent. Ashley Campbell as Little Moe, Chris Colquhoun as Big Moe, Carlton Connell as Four Eyed Moe, Paul Hazel as Eat Moe and Horace Oliver as Know Moe manage the impressive feat of making themselves distinct individuals but also a slick, coherent team. Peters is enormously charismatic, and plays the crowd like a pro, weighting his comedic performance with enough believable emotion for you to actually care about Nomax’s fate.
It takes an actor of substance to hold your attention sitting at the edge of the stage when someone else is belting out a show-stopper, but Peters is such an actor; and while he possesses a decent set of pipes and some surprisingly good moves, it’s this quiet power that really makes his performance shine. The fabulous band, too deserve praise for bringing real character to the show, rather than being simply an anonymous backdrop.
Paulette Randall’s direction never lets the pace falter, balancing the laugh out loud comedy with the show’s genuine heart. This is helped by Jon Bausor’s stylish stage set, which moves between Nomax’s motel room and a nightclub background, and is used smartly and to amusing effect.
Seth Green’s musical direction is also spot on – the one teeny quibble being that sometimes the band drowns out the singers – and the choreography, by original cast member Paul J Medford, is as sharp as the crease in the Moes’ zoot suits. From a show full of standouts it’s hard to pick a favourite number, although the closing rendition of “Is you is, or is you ain’t my baby” is particularly beautifully done.
Overall, the show is a delight, packed with great music, great dancing, and exuberance to spare. If you’re depressed by the end of the summer, there’s no better remedy than getting yourself along to the Theatre Royal in Stratford – there isn’t a more feelgood show in London.