Vintage Theatre’s exuberant musical is the hit of the summer

Nomax is broke, his girlfriend is MIA and it’s 3 a.m. in his apartment. He’s listening to the radio, drinking too much and swimming in the blues as he fruitlessly calls his girl’s number again and again. He belts out a sad song, “Early in the Morning,” and is about to return to his pity party when, in a puff of smoke, out of his vintage radio pops a magical surprise support group.

Yep, it’s Five Guys Named Moe. Not only are they armed with a song for every life lesson they’re about to teach Nomax, they’re also funny, fantastic singers and dancers and relentless in their quest to shake the blues out of Nomax.

(L-R) Kenyan Bernard, Ronald McQueen, Jalen Gregory, Micah Lawrence, Josiah Peters and Michael Bateman | Photo: RDG Photography

Now showing at Aurora’s Vintage Theatre, Five Guys Named Moe is based off a musical short by Louis Jordan dating back to 1943. The full show was conceived and written by Clarke Peters, premiering on Broadway in 1992. The Vintage Theatre production was delayed a bit due to COVID, but it was worth the wait.

Directors Christopher Page-Sanders and Lee Ann Scherlong assembled an extraordinary cast that includes Micah Lawrence as Nomax, Michael Bateman as Big Moe, Josiah Peters as Eat Moe, Kenyan Bernard as No Moe, Jalen Gregory as Four Eyed Moe and Ronald McQueen as Little Moe. Each of these actors did such nice work distinguishing their characters that I’d be hard-pressed to pick a favorite – they were all so good.

With music direction by Dr. Michael Williams (also on keys), a crack band upstage features a three-piece horn section that’s essential for songs like “Caldonia,” “What’s the Use of Getting Sober” and the Five Guys’ show-stopping opener, “Five Guys Named Moe.”

When they start to beat it out

Everybody jump and shout

Tell me who do the critics rave about?

Five Guys Named Moe

We came out of nowhere

But that don’t mean a thing

We rate high and you’ll know why

When you hear us sing

-From the song ‘Five Guys Named Moe’

White guys of a certain age like me know some of these songs from the 1981 album “Jumpin’ Jive,” Joe Jackson’s homage to swing and jump blues. But the musical genre is mostly a Black tradition, popular in the 1940s and considered a precursor to rock ‘n’ roll. The Vintage production features an all-Black cast with a lot of male energy (the only woman on stage is saxophonist Alex Salek) and they had a lot of fun interacting with the audience while moving through a busy set list that includes some two dozen songs.

Major props go to Page-Sanders, who choreographed the show. All those high-paced numbers took full advantage of the larger theatre at Vintage and a very athletic group of actors on their toes full-time for both acts.

As the first live show out of the gate since the pandemic for Vintage, Five Guys Named Moe is a real winner, a foot-stompin’, crowd-pleasing, highly energetic musical that absolutely should not be missed.