by Linda Lombardi, Literary Manager
What does the music and dance of Louis Jordan’s time of the 1940s have to do with today’s boy bands? We sat down with Choreographer Byron Easley and Music Director Darryl Ivey to discuss their new remix of Five Guys Named Moe. Big band meets boy band in this dynamic, dazzling musical revue.
How does choreography and orchestration work together? And then with a director and the cast – what amount of collaboration is there?
DI: I was brought on board by director Robert O’Hara, and we discussed his vision and how he thought the music should be. Then he, Byron and I had a few conversations and hashed out some things. After Robert gave me a general way to go I went to my laboratory and brought back some ideas for him to listen to, and then I knew which way to proceed.
BE: I wanted to hook into Robert’s vision and celebrate that, but the music is very important. The music tells you what to do if you listen to it. In choreography, the music guides you, and so it was important for me to listen to the changes Darryl was making. Then it changes even more when we hear the whole band, how it sits, because the music informs the movement in a big way. The rehearsal room is the real lab, because that’s where everything comes together. There are times when I have a step for choreography and I have to make sure it’s song-friendly, and that’s when I need Darryl’s help. I have to make sure the story’s being heard.
BE: That’s where we really start to collaborate. To maybe change this tempo or hold that note.
DI: In musical theater in general you have these three different disciplines: the acting, the music and the choreography, and these separate disciplines have to come together somehow. Rehearsals are the process of negotiating that.
Darryl, what’s been your process in creating the new arrangements for the show?
DI: Louis Jordan’s career spanned the 1940s through the early 1960s. He’s one of the main progenitors of rock ‘n’ roll and pop music as we know it today. A lot of people don’t know that. Robert came to Five Guys with his vision of investigating the phenomenon of boy bands and asking, “If Louis Jordan were alive today, and composing and working, what would his music sound like?” So I started thinking along those lines and asking, “If we’re going to do ‘Saturday Night Fish-Fry’ what kind of beat would it have-“
BE: What kind of groove would it sit in.
DI: Yeah, and so I thought through all of the songs in the show along those lines. Popular music in this country has evolved over the past fifty, sixty years of course, and it’s a further evolution of what Jordan did back in those days. The beat, harmonies, attitude, instrumentation —is different from the original show. For example, instead of an acoustic upright you have an upright bass, two keyboard players instead of one piano player, and a rebalancing of all those elements to give it a more contemporary flavor.
Byron, how did you incorporate modern choreography and still keep elements of the dances of Jordan’s time?
BE: Just as the music today was influenced by Louis Jordan, it’s the same thing with the movement. We’ve got movements that we do today that look like a Charleston, look like moves that were done before. I approach it as though it’s a band today covering these songs, and so we could have a mixture of both—some of what we did before, and then what we create in the room. One thing about Jordan’s music was that it made you want to move, it had a great, driving beat that made you want to dance. So the question became how would these guys move, if they were a boy band today? They would sit in it in a certain way, into a certain groove and a certain swag that would manifest their storytelling, and so that’s what we try to play with. Same steps, but how would they interpret it? It’s about trying to be a celebration of Jordan’s music, manifested today, in this collaboration. And that’s been the challenge—putting the twist on it. How do we celebrate this man’s music, but yet do it in today’s world? That’s been very exciting.
DI: I would agree. Putting the modern-day twist was the most exciting aspect. I spent a lot of days and nights thinking about it, trying different things, and sometimes, after you’ve done all the things during your eight hour rehearsal day, you go away and you relax, but your mind is still working on some level, and then you wake up in the morning and you’ve just got it!
BE: What we think sometimes are obstacles are actually opportunities to find something greater.
DI: That is most certainly true.