In the 1940s, bandleader Louis Jordan pioneered
a new kind of music. A mix of jazz, blues and jive-talking humor,
Jordan’s music became wildly popular.
Jordan was a singer, saxophonist and bandleader whose specialty was jump blues with a danceable beat accompanied by an antic humor. With his Tympany Five, Jordan produced such hits as "Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens," "Choo Choo Ch’Boogie," and "Saturday Night Fish Fry." These songs jumped, rocked and swung; and eventually led to the birth of rock ’n’ roll through the likes of Bill Haley and Chuck Berry.
On Feb. 17, the Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts will pay tribute to Jordan with the Irving Street Repertory’s revival of "Five Guys Named Moe." The review is being produced by A. Curtis Farrow and Ron Lucas; directed and choreographed by Farrow; and stars Lucas as "Four Eyed Moe," Kwane Remy as "Eat Moe," Derrick Baker as "No Moe," Avon Chandler as "Little Moe," Kevin Neil Chatham as "Big Moe," and Terrin Carter as the drunk and lovesick "No Max," who, dumped by his girlfriend, imagines the five Moes emerging from the radio to advise him about love.
"They help him get his act together through song and dance," said Farrow.
Indeed the five Moes harmonize, croon, wail, tap and joke their way through 27 Jordan songs. Dressed in multicolored zoot suits they light up the stage and make it sparkle with their energy and enthusiasm.
According to Lucas, the "Five Guys Named Moe" theme song was originally composed by a fan who called the group "Five Guys Named Moe" when he couldn’t remember the name of the band he had just seen. Later he composed the song and sent it to Jordan, who liked the tune so much, he made it into his signature song.
Despite Jordan’s popularity and influence on the rock ’n’ roll of the ’50s, Lucas said, "Nobody really gave him credit for being one of the creators of rock ’n’ roll. Jazz people didn’t care for him because they felt he’d sold out. Rock ’n’ roll people didn’t like him because he was ethnic and they couldn’t book him."
But if Jordan’s name is largely forgotten, his music lives on.
"You can’t imagine how many Louis Jordan songs you know," said Farrow. "Once you hear them you say, ’Hey, my parents sang those songs.’"
Farrow calls "Five Guys Named Moe," "the most audience-pleasing show I’ve ever done." It played up and down the West Coast and in Florida, Pennsylvania and Connecticut before coming to Brooklyn; and Farrow said that when the show plays for a few weeks "people come back and bring their entire families."
"The first act ends in a conga line with audience participation. The cast gives out leis, whistles and horns. It’s very energetic. There’s a lot of choreography. It’s a fun, rollicking show, and it’s very family oriented," Farrow said.
Irving Street Repertory, based in Newark, N.J., is a black theater company Farrow founded in 1991. The company produces mostly musical reviews, but also some straight drama and original work for college tours and regional theater. Other productions include "Ain’t Misbehavin’," "Your Arms Too Short To Box With God," "The Elegance of Ellington," the "Nat King Cole Songbook" and the original works, "Rhythm" and "Gospitality."
Farrow is particularly pleased to be bringing this show to the Brooklyn Center.
"It’s a great place to do a show," he said.
Among its attributes, the Brooklyn Center has a professional staff, and a large, comfortable and well-proportioned space with a stage that can be seen from every seat. And, of course, great audiences.
"Brooklyn audiences give you the same energy as if they were seeing a Broadway show," said Farrow. "If you do a good job in Brooklyn, they’re not going to give you a Bronx cheer."
Irving Street Repertory will present "Five Guys Named Moe" on Feb. 17 at 8 pm. Tickets are $32 and $37. All performances presented by Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts take place in the Walt Whitman Theater, on the campus of Brooklyn College (one block from the junction of Flatbush and Nostrand avenues). For tickets, call the box office at (718) 951-4500.