Five Guys Named Moe – Credit Timothy Kelly.

Five Guys Named Moe – Upstairs at the Gatehouse

Mykal Rand’s revival of the Olivier-winning Five Guys Named Moe is a high-energy, hootenanny of harmonies – offering West End calibre performances up-close in the Gatehouse’s intimate (but not claustrophobic) upstairs theatre.

Five Guys Named Moe – Credit Timothy Kelly.
Five Guys Named Moe – Credit Timothy Kelly.

Although this show has nothing to do with the festive season per se, the joint feels like the kind of New Year’s bash you’d actually want to attend. A live 5-piece band led by musical supervisor John Reddel on piano sets the mood as kicking. Staged with seating on the two long sides of rectangular space, with Ryan Webster’s simple but effective New York cityscape set on one of the short sides and the band opposite, the audience is immersed in the show’s lively ambience immediately.

Juan Jackson as Nomax opens this jukebox musical of Louis Jordan classics (book by Clarke Peters) with a voice so pure and strong that for a moment I wondered if he was lip-syncing. He was not. But I was awestruck and transported by the quality of the music – thanks to the six individually outstanding singers (five of whom play characters named ‘Moe’: Big Moe [Kim Drew Boateng]; No Moe [Andre Coulson]; Eat Moe [AJ Lewis]; Little Moe [Christian Maynard] and Four-Eyed Moe [Kieran McGinn) and their collective euphony under the musical direction of Griffin Jenkins alongside the band’s hot and sweet delivery. The first act is a triumph with consummate showmanship for 11 numbers that seem to breeze by delightfully. Before we know it, we’re being led in a Calypso Bee-Bop sing-along by Four-Eyed Moe (played by the superlative Kieran McGinn who distinguished himself as a formidable triple threat within an already stellar cast). I wished I’d been drinking champagne in the stalls because the entire experience felt like a celebration.

The second act keeps the revelry and reverie going with a dozen numbers that show off Rand’s chops as a choreographer. Rand was a member of the original creative team when this show ascended to stardom some three decades ago – the creative thread is unbroken with this powerhouse of a production in Highgate. Along the way, we are treated to glorious 5-part harmonies, competitive tap dancing and a jocund chicken number (one of the many flourishes of Jean Gray’s costumes). 

Toby Burrow’s sound design provides a strong underpinning (as does Timothy Kelly’s lighting) but on press night there was a minor mic feedback glitch in the penultimate number which I felt slightly robbed the cast of their mojo (or ‘moe-jo’?) such that these sterling performers were perhaps a little hesitant to give ‘Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby’ all the welly it merits and of which there is no doubt they are capable. However, I’ve witnessed worst tech problems during Hamilton months into its run and this production is confidently slick and thoroughly professional. I’d love to hear that number again uninhibited because I suspect it’s a showstopper of the highest order.

I sincerely hope this entertainment gem in N6 isn’t kept under wraps because it is a rare and beautiful thing to experience such virtuoso performances – from veterans and debutants alike – for about a fifth of the West End price. Don’t delay, celebrate whilst you can because as Louis Jordan tells us ‘Life is so peculiar’.

5 Stars

Review by Mary Beer

Five Guys Named Moe
A musical by CLARKE PETERS
featuring LOUIS JORDAN’S Greatest Hits

Cast members: AJ LEWIS – Lead Vocalist in Thriller Live (Lyric Theatre), ANDRE COULSON – Recent Graduate, JUAN JACKSON – Cats (Really Useful Company), KIERAN MCGINN – Motown the Musical (Shaftesbury Theatre), KM DREW BOATENG – Motown the Musical (Shaftesbury Theatre), LAWRENCE ROWE – The Book of Mormon (UK & International tour).

AJ Lewis – Eat Moe
Andre Coulson – No Moe
Juan Jackson – Nomax
Kieran McGinn – Four Eyed Moe
KM Drew Boateng – Big Moe
Christian Maynard – Little Moe

Director / Choreographer – Mykal Rand
Musical Director – Sufia Manya
Lighting Designer – Timothy Kelly
Set Designer – Ryan Webster
Sound Designer – Toby Burrow
Casting – Pearson Casting
Producer – Ovation
Presented by special arrangement with Music Theatre International and Cameron Mackintosh
A musical by CLARKE PETERS
featuring LOUIS JORDAN’S Greatest Hits
15th December 2021 – 16th January 2022
Upstairs at the Gatehouse

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