Sumter Little Theatre's "Five Guys Named Moe" is a musical comedy that brings together some of Sumter's most talented singers and actors in a celebration of the music of Louis Jordan and several other songwriters of the middle 20th century. The …
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Sumter Little Theatre's "Five Guys Named Moe" is a musical comedy that brings together some of Sumter's most talented singers and actors in a celebration of the music of Louis Jordan and several other songwriters of the middle 20th century. The 20-plus songs in the show by Clarke Peters are classified as blues, but they're mostly upbeat, even humorous blues.
The show, which has won or been nominated for several awards, begins when NoMax, played by Brandon Graves, truly has the blues - he's dead broke, and his girlfriend has left him. The "Five Guys Named Moe" emerge from NoMax's 1930s radio to show him what he needs to do to set his life straight.
The five guys are played by Markelle Roberts as Little Moe, Hugh China as Big Moe, Don Phillips as Four-Eyed Moe, Josh Thomas as Eat Moe and William Paul Brown as No Moe.
Eric Bultman said his biggest challenge in directing the show was "assembling the right cast," which has resulted in a cohesive unit of actors, musicians and crew.
"The energy of these men is so positive," he said. "I can't remember a time when I've worked with a cast where everybody had such a great attitude. After all, we've been rehearsing at least three hours (almost) every night, and that's after they get off work."
Besides their strong singing, "these guys dance well," Bultman said.
Thomas, Roberts and Phillips are in their first show at SLT, Bultman said, while the others have worked in past shows.
China has done musicals ("The Full Monty") and drama ("Driving Miss Daisy") but said "Five Guys" is his "first purely musical show."
"It's very entertaining, and I love the singing," he said. "Paul [Brown] has been great teaching us our vocal parts, and Eric's directing has us creating distinct personalities for our characters. We trust each other, and it's a show everyone can enjoy."
Brown is also vocal director, and Phillips, a member of the Sumter Civic Dance Company, has doubled as choreographer.
Graves, chorus teacher at Ebenezer and Hillcrest middle schools, who is in his first major role, said his "students are very excited about (his being in the play). It's opened up a good conversation about jazz."
Roberts, who was not familiar with Louis Jordan's music, said he "(likes) the way he tells a story in his music, and the script is funny. There are a lot of laughs, and I have a lot of physical comedy. Vocally it's challenging - they keep me at the top of my range."
"Five Guys" is Thomas' "first show at SLT or ever," he said, adding that he likes it. Bultman said, "He's like he's been doing it forever."
An electrician by day, Thomas said he listens to all kinds of music and can hear the connection of rock 'n' roll, jazz and even hip-hop to the blues.
Brown said, "What makes this show so interesting is that everyone has a distinct personality. It's not simply the songs, but they take you on the journey to rock 'n' roll and other music." He cited the connection to rap and the operatic "patter songs."
As No Moe, Brown said, "I try to move things along, try to keep the group in order."
James Lies plays piano in the six-piece band and has been accompanist for rehearsals. Trained as a classical musician, Lies said he first enjoyed playing jazz in SLT's "Ain't Misbehavin'" and "this year it's the blues."
As he talked, Lies played bits of music from the show, illustrating how "blues was kind of a start for 'boogie oogie oogie.' A lot of the music should be familiar," he said, "and the talent is great."
Among the songs audience members might recognize are "Don't Let the Sun Catch You Crying," "Choo Choo Ch'Boogie," "Caldonia" and "There Ain't Nobody Here but Us Chickens."
David Shoemaker, in addition to designing the set and the lighting, has put together the band, which has to be very versatile, as the music is varied. While it is the blues, some of the songs have a swing or calypso beat in addition to the ballads. There's even a little Western swing in the mix.
The band comprises Lies on piano, Sean Hackett on saxophone, Barry Simpson on drums, Chip Scales on trombone, Robert Berry on trumpet and Darren Polutta on bass.
Gwyn Waters is stage manager, Sylvia Pickett designed the costumes that evoke the '30s, and Michael Bacon is sound tech.
Bultman said, "'Five Guys' is a light-hearted show the audience will appreciate. It's fun, the music is great, and it's going to be a time when people can come and have a good time."
Sumter Little Theatre, 14 Mood Ave., presents "Five Guys Named Moe" Feb. 8 through 11 and 15 through 18. Sunday matinees begin at 3 p.m., and all other shows at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25 for adults, $20 for students, seniors and military. For reservations, visit the website www.sumterlittletheatre.com or call (803) 775-2150.
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