When the Chenango River Theatre Company put on its first production last year, I was excited to learn that an equity acting company had formed in Greene, staging professional performances for theater-loving audiences.
And I meant to go, I really did. Sometimes Greene seems as far away as Zimbabwe, and I just never made it down there last year. Fast forward to this year’s season, and I really did have every intention of seeing the company’s first offering, “I Hate Hamlet,” earlier this summer. I made plans to go. Twice. You know what they say about men who plan.
So we artistic director Bill Lelblach extended the olive branch again for the current production of “Five Guys Named Moe,” I’m glad I grabbed at it. Greene’s still about a million miles away from Norwich on a hot summer evening, but I’m glad I got off the couch and made the trek down there last night.
In its second season, the nonprofit theater company has started staging productions in its permanent home, a converted warehouse/office building on Rt. 12 just south of Greene, right next to B&G Trucking. The outside of the building is as nondescript as it is deceiving, because inside is what’s really a charming little performance space. It’s not a huge theater, seating only about 100, but it’s well thought out, appointed and intimate. There’s not a bad seat in the house -- seated third row center for “Moe” last night, I could see the sweat on the actor’s faces (and there was a lot of it, but more on that later). Seats like that on Broadway would’ve cost me a week’s salary. At a job where I make a lot more money.
Being an equity theater company means that the productions Chenango River Theatre produces aren’t done with local actors – they’re true professionals who do this for a living. The current show is a touring production of the acclaimed Depot Theatre in Westport. I’ve certainly become an ardent fan of both adult and student amateur theater over my years at the paper, so it was a switch for me to get to see a show done by the pros. Community theater has its quirks, charming though they may be ... but seeing a professional troupe of actors, even in a small venue, is a truly unique experience.
So yeah, the show! “Five Guys Named Moe” is about, well, five guys named Moe who appear magically to the lovelorn Nomax and give him advice about his girlfriend. Really, that’s about as tricky as the plot gets. As musicals go, “Five Guys Named Moe” is just that -- musical. There’s no more than a minute or so of dialogue as the Moes, conjured from the down-and-out Nomax’s imagination, teach him about life and love with song after song after song.
Not big on plot, maybe, but very big on entertainment. Big Moe, Four-Eyed Moe, Eat Moe, No Moe, and Little Moe teach their lessons to Nomax through song and dance, set largely to the musical stylings of Louis Jordan and his contemporaries at the dawn of rock n’ roll. The show played to great success in Broadway in the early 90s, and was a Tony Award nominee.
The energy of the Moes is both infectious and hilarious (and like I said before, sweaty), and although I usually eschew audience participation, the Calypso-themed “Push Ka Pi Shi Pie” at the end of the first act was a lot of fun.
And so was my first trip down to the Chenango River Theatre in Greene. Gas prices being what they are, it’s a much better deal to see a production of this caliber virtually in our own backyard than it is to travel to the Great White Way. A bargain and a laugh – and five guys named Moe – that’s an act that’s hard to beat.
“Five Guys Named Moe” is being performed Wednesday through Sunday nights at 7:30, with 2 p.m. matinees on Sundays, now through Aug. 10. Coming up on the company playlist are “Other People’s Money” Aug. 29-Sept. 21 and “Crimes of the Heart,” Oct. 10-Nov. 2. Tickets are available by calling 656-8499 or visiting chenangorivertheatre.org.