Festival Square Theatre, Edinburgh – until 7 January 2017
Reviewer: Hugh Simpson
Boisterous enjoyment and foot-tapping music compensate for outdated attitudes in Underbelly’s revival of Five Guys Named Moe, at the Spiegeltent in Edinburgh’s Festival Square until January.
The music of Louis Jordan, whose jump blues was a definite precursor of rock’n’roll, features. Numbers like Choo Choo Ch’Boogie or Saturday Night Fish Fry are guaranteed to supply a good night out.
It is lucky that the tunes are strong, as the book in Clarke Peters’ musical is wafer-thin. Unlucky-in-love Nomax is listening to his radio when the Moes of the title appear to teach him a lesson – and that’s really it.
There is a potential problem with the songs too, with some of the lyrics’ concerns less than acceptable to modern audiences. Everyone is well aware of this; excuses are made on more than one occasion. The offending songs could easily be replaced, as they are of no real relevance to the (absent) plot.
How Nomax is supposed to mend his ways by listening to chauvinistic songs is as much a mystery as everything else about a story that defies any explanation other than ‘it was all a dream.’ Even by the standards of jukebox musicals, this is negligible stuff.
Fortunately, the energetic performances go a long way towards compensating. Matt Mills is tuneful, doleful and versatile as Nomax, while the various Moes each have their strengths. There is a real presence to Cameron Johnson’s Big Moe, while Jacob Maynard (Know Moe) has a freshness and vitality that is thoroughly magnetic.
Spin (Four-eyed Moe) exudes a cheeky charm, while Michael Zhangazha’s Little Moe is a likeable naif. Emile Ruddock (Eat Moe), like the others, is more a force of nature than a fully developed character, but provides well-timed humour and impressive dancing.
Jacob Maynard, , Mitchell Zhangazha, Cameron Johnson, Emile Ruddock and Spin. Photo Manuel Harlan
The movement, like the music, is beyond reproach; what is particularly good about Paulette Randall’s direction and Jason Pennycooke’s choreography is the way they achieve a togetherness while leaving room for the individual characters to express themselves. Some table-top tap dancing is particularly pleasing; there is even room for some understated magic and a plant gag straight out of Hellzapoppin.
Joseph Roberts and his band provide suitably jumping backing throughout, and Tom Rogers’s eye-catching, primary-coloured costumes are a joy.
The set design (also by Rogers) makes inventive use of the Spiegeltent, with a revolving circular walkway that cuts the hall in two frequently used – possibly too frequently, as its position, and those of the pillars, do not help visibility for large sections of the audience.
This symbolises what holds this production back. At times it seems overthought, when the emphasis surely has to be on big and rather dumb fun. Jokes and attempts at audience participation fall flat, and there is an unnecessarily apologetic air at times. For a Christmas show, this seems short on glitter.
The closing section – the gig at the Funky Butt Club – is the most straight-ahead, and correspondingly the most successful, providing that extra touch of pizzazz and sparkle that is missing elsewhere.
Running time: 2 hours including one interval
Festival Square Theatre, Festival Square, Lothian Road, EH3 9SR
Friday 18 November 2016 – Sat 7 January 2017
Evenings (not Suns or Sat 24) at 7.30 pm; Matinees Thurs and Sat 4.00 pm
Details and tickets: http://www.edinburghschristmas.com/whats-on/five-guys-named-moe