The Nate Holden Performing Arts joint is a-jumpin’—and then some—as Ebony Repertory Theatre thrills L.A. audiences with its 25th-anniversary revival of the Best Musical Tony-nominated Five Guys Named Moe, Broadway’s crowd-captivating tribute to the songs of 1940s R&B pioneer Louis Jordan.

If Jordan’s name doesn’t ring the same bell as his contemporaries Duke Ellington, Lionel Hampton, and the Ink Spots (at least for this reviewer), here’s some Hit Parade trivia for you.

The Five Guys Named Moe singer-songwriter-bandleader not only chart-topped all of those music greats put together, his songs bridged the gap between R&B and rock and roll, influencing ‘50s greats like Chuck Berry, B.B. King, Ray Charles, and Fats Domino with Jordan’s trademark blend of jazz, blues, and spoken lyrics, the latter heralding today’s rap.

Five Guys Named Mo attempts to rectify that oversight, and though calling it something other than a musical revue is stretching the truth (one can’t help but wonder about the lack of Best Book competition the year Five Guys scored its writer Clarke Peters a Tony nomination back in 1992), that hardly matters.

Musical revues don’t come any more tune-filled or excitingly performed than Five Guys Named Moe, winningly directed and choreographed for Ebony Rep by Keith Young and performed by stage-and-screen star Obba Babatundé and five sensational Moes.

Clarke’s wisp of “book” has loser-in-love Nomax (Babatundé) once again drinking himself into oblivion when who should pop out of his 1940s console radio but No Moe (Jacques C. Smith), Big Moe (Octavius Womack), Little Moe (Trevon Davis), Four-Eyed Moe (Rogelio Douglas, Jr.), and Eat Moe (Eric B. Anthony) with plans to teach him a lesson or two about love, how to avoid it, how to earn it, and how to keep it.

Big Moe cautions Nomax to “Beware, Brother, Beware,” or at least that’s what he should do “if she’s easy to kiss and never resists.” “I Like ‘Em Fat Like That” has Little Moe proclaiming his preference for women with “more bounce to the ounce” and “more room to rump.” And in “Messy Bessy,” No Moe and Four-Eyed Moe advise the ladies to “keep your whiskey quiet” because otherwise “you just might start a riot.”

Fortunately for today’s more evolved audiences, these pre-feminist-‘40s lyrics lose much of their sexist sting with performers as ingratiating as the Moes to perform them to musical director Abdul Hamid Royal’s get-up-and-boogie live band, the quintet’s velvety vocal performances complemented by Young’s exuberant, infectious dance steps.

Each Moe gets his chance to delight and dazzle over the course of Five Guys’ two-dozen chart-toppers, nine of them co-written by Jordan.

Smith’s jazzy “Reet, Petite and Gone,” Womack’s sassy “Beware, Brother, Beware,” Anthony’s bluesy “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying,” Davis’s jitter-bugging “Saturday Night Fish Fry,” and Douglas’s show-stopping romantic dazzler “Azure Te” showcase five of the finest triple-threats in town, and Babatundé gets his own chance to shine vocally in the honky-tonky “I Know What I’ve Got.”

Lyrics don’t get any more outrageous than “What’s The Use Of Gettin’ Sober (When You’re Gonna Get Drunk Again),” or more fun to sing along to than the audience-participatory “Push Ka Pi Shi Pie” and “Cadonia,” and songs (and performances) don’t get any more delectable than the hoe-down beats of “Safe, Sane, And Single,” or the Moes dressed as barnyard fowl in “Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens.”

And however misogynist the five gentlemen’s initial advice to Nomax might be, at the very least they get it right in the eleventh-hour “Hurry Home” (“Since you’ve been gone it’s all very clear. Life is just an empty thing without you, dear.”)

Edward E. Haynes, Jr.’s classy scenic design takes us from Nomax’s lonely flat to the neighborhood barber shop to Paris to Act Two’s flashy Club Alabam. Naila Aladdin Sander’s elegant costumes make the Moes look fabulous throughout, Dan Weingarten lights performers, set, and tuxes with pizzazz, and sound designer John Feinstein mixes vocals and instrumentals to crystal-clear perfection.

Ed De Shae is production stage manager and Ross Jackson is assistant stage manager.

It’s been two-dozen years since Five Guys Named Moe played Hollywood’s then Doolittle, now Ricardo Montalban Theatre, and with the Louis Jordan tribute now celebrating the silver anniversary of its Broadway debut, the timing could hardly be more auspicious for its return to the gorgeous Nate Holden Performing Arts Center. With Five Guys and Nomax putting on one lollapalooza of a show, who could ask for anything Moe?

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Nate Holden Performing Arts Center, 4718 West Washington Blvd., Los Angeles.

–Steven Stanley
May 20, 2017
Photos: Craig Schwartz Photography

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