Tag Archives: Dex Lee

“Five Guys Named Moe” at the Marble Arch Theatre

A hit musical that ran for four years in the West End and transferred to Broadway, this revival boasts its own venue – a spiegeltent courtesy of Underbelly Productions. The pop-up feel is fun but doesn’t really evoke the New Orleans setting. And while the auditorium adds to the sense of an event, the show’s creator and director Clarke Peters uses it clumsily: a racetrack style stage, complete with a walkalator, is little used and creates a sense of distance for most of the audience. The lack of intimacy is a shame, given the terrific performances here.

A quintet of talented singers and dancers perform as the titular characters: they are all consummate showmen, sounding great with impressive moves. Ian Carlyle takes the lead in terms of sheer charisma, while Idriss Kargbo, arguably, has the best voice. Along with Emile Ruddock, Horace Oliver and Dex Lee, this is a team drilled to perfection – yet it makes the party atmosphere the show aims for feel natural. With little help from the script, the actors establish an otherworldly presence – their magical appearance is to impart wisdom on to a drunk with relationship problems called Nomax. This is a tricky role for Edward Baruwa (for too much of the piece he has little to do but stumble around), highlighting the weak story. Nomax’s problems are a slim scaffold for a revue show that in itself is excellent.

Peters’ musical knowledge, attested by his shows on Radio 4, is the overriding talent here; his passion and interest drive the musical, curating a selection of songs not to be missed. The numbers are mostly by Louis Jordan, grandfather of rock & roll and a chief architect of rhythm & blues. The entertaining lyrics are both heartfelt and humorous. The music combines adventurous experimentation with a slick confidence and Jordan’s massive influence makes listening fascinating. Many might be tempted to ignore Five Guys Named Moe as a jukebox musical, and its problems are familiar ones for the genre. But the soundtrack is inspirational, the pacing perfect and the performances excellent.

Until 24 March 2018

www.fiveguysmusical.com

Photo by Helen Maybanks

“The Wild Party” at The Other Palace

The renamed St James Theatre, now in Lord Lloyd Webber’s portfolio, has the new raison d’être of trying out and refining musicals. And there’s the aim of starting conversations from artistic director Paul Taylor-Mills that warms a blogger’s heart. The first show, by Michael John LaChiusa, is a strong start, but a puzzle, too. Seen on Broadway in 2000, it already seems so cogently formed that there is little new to talk about.

The piece is experimental in that it is based on a poem – by Joseph McClure March – can anyone think of another apart from Cats? musical with such a source? George C Wolfe’s book is structurally audacious and, while the scenario couldn’t be slimmer – someone holds a party, that’s it – the tension ratchets up and up. Both music and lyrics have little time for novices or a discernable eye on commercial success. The milieu here isn’t that familiar to a British audience (jokes, in particular, are a touch obscure) but LaChiusa’s knowledge of American music is obviously profound.

A good portion of the show is a series of introductions. Taking the lead is Queenie, a dancer in Vaudeville, brilliantly portrayed by the legendary Frances Ruffelle, who gives this tart-with-a-heart appropriate depth. Her common law husband, played by John Owen-Jones – also tremendous – ensures the show is not one for coulrophobics. This complicated relationship is the vehicle for exploring obsession and dependence.

John Owen-Jones and Victoria Hamilton-Barritt
John Owen-Jones and Victoria Hamilton-Barritt

Presenting other partygoers gives the rest of the ensemble a chance to shine. Dex Lee is particularly strong as the arch hedonist Jackie, a sophisticate who turns bestial. And, as Queenie’s best friend Victoria Hamilton-Barritt really gets her teeth into a juicy role. It would be hard to sacrifice any of these characters… but maybe more focus might have made the show more enjoyable? Combining high and low life and a mix of ages, races and sexualities has a point but means there’s a lot to handle here. And don’t forget a moral. Like many works of art about libertines, The Wild Party is a warning. When the bootleg gin arrives, complete with bathtub on stage, it would make Hogarth proud.

The venue’s aim as an experimental home is fulfilled for Drew McOnie. While his acclaimed choreography adds enormously to what could be a static affair, his remarkably assured debut as a director is the real story. The piece calls for strong acting and McOnie secures it. There’s a cutting pathos to many of the affairs. And a crazed wish for love, sex, drugs and ambition, with a scary intensity that McOnie doesn’t spare us from.

Until 1 April 2017

www.theotherpalace.co.uk

Photos by Scott Rylander