Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Five Guys Named Moe
Black Theatre Troupe
Review by Gil Benbrook

Also see Gil's recent review of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Phillip Glover, Tyree Ballard, Dyonn James,
Cedrick Jenkins, Walter Belcher, and
Frederick Alphonso

Photo by Laura Durant
Over the past several decades, there has been a steady stream of jukebox musicals that use the songs written by or associated with a composer, musical performer, or group that are set against either a fictional plot or a factual story that highlights the struggles and successes of the composer or artists. Five Guys Named Moe, which uses songs written or recorded by jazz saxophonist, singer, and bandleader Louis Jordan, may have a paper-thin plot but it makes for one of the liveliest of these jukebox shows. Black Theatre Troupe is presenting a joyous and joyful production of this vibrant musical, with an energetic cast and a small but superb band.

The plot is minimal. Nomax, a depressed, broke, and down on his luck young man, is spending his night alone with a bottle as his girlfriend Lorraine has just left him. Magically emerging from his radio are five guys named Moe, there to consult him and give him some "solid advice" about the errors of his ways so he can get his priorities straight and get Lorraine back.

The musical premiered in London in 1990, shortly after Jordan was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in the category of "early influences." Listening to the more than two dozen songs in Five Guys Named Moe you can easily see how Jordan's compositions paved the way for the blues and jazz infused songs of so many pop and rock artists who came after him. While the book by Clarke Peters is simple, it still manages to weave the tunes together into a fairly cohesive story about a group of friends trying to help someone going through a bad patch, and the cast, under Alexander Patrick's sure-footed direction and sensationally choreographed dances, excel in creating lovable individuals.

The cast are all excellent singers and performers. While the script doesn't give them much depth or room to flesh out their characters, they all still manage to create lifelike and likable individuals and each gets several moments or two to shine and show off their vocal abilities. They also work well together and play wonderfully and humorously off each other.

As No Max, Cedrick Jenkins displays a nice amount of frustration, uncertainty and heartache in his portrayal of this broken-down man, and he has several well sung, bluesy, and introspective solos, including "Early in the Morning," and "I Know What I've Got." Walter Belcher has appeared in several shows in town and his delivery of "Caldonia" and his portrayal of Big Moe are bold and fun. As No Moe, Tyree Ballard delivers a bright and bouncy "Messy Bessy," and, as Eat Moe, Frederick Alphonso's "Don't Let the Sun Catch You Crying" is gorgeously sung. Dyonn James may be the smallest of the five Moes but the humor and clarity he brings to Little Moe's rendition of "I Like 'em Fat Like That" and his energetic and athletic dance movements make the song an audience favorite. Phillip Glover's sustained, bright and clear vocals excel on Four-Eyed Moe's delivery of "Azure Te."

Brenda Hankins' assured music direction delivers bright and clear vocals and notes from both the cast and the exceptional onstage band; the harmonies the cast create on "Is You Is or Is You Ain't My Baby?" are gorgeous. The scenic design by Alfredo Escarcega creates a magical cityscape with silhouettes of buildings and bright colors which Stacey Walston's lighting design paints with vibrant and continually changing hues. The fun and bold costumes by Carol Simmons have each Moe in a signature color, using various patterns and fabrics, and Roberto Gittens' sound design does a pretty good job of making sure the vocals are always bright and clear.

Five Guys Named Moe may have a simple plot but hearing more than two dozen songs that Jordan composed or was associated with sung by a strong cast with a superb jazz band accompanying them results in not only an upbeat and nostalgic musical but also a fun experience and a truly wonderful good time.

The Black Theatre Troupe's Five Guys Named Moe runs through September 25, 2022, at Helen K. Mason Performing Arts Center, 1333 East Washington Street, Phoenix AZ. For tickets and information, please visit or call 602 258-8129.

Directed and Choreography by Alexander Patrick
Music Direction by Brenda Hankins
Scenic Design: Alfredo Escarcega
Lighting Design: Stacey Walston
Costume Design: Carol Simmons
Sound Design: Roberto Gittens
Stage Manager: Mickey Parent

Eat Moe: Frederick Alphonso
No Moe: Tyree Ballard
Big Moe: Walter Belcher
Four-Eyed Moe: Phillip Glover
Little Moe: Dyonn James
No Max: Cedrick Jenkins