Last Updated on November 5, 2021
Get Up, Stand Up! The Bob Marley Musical opens in the West End
Bob Marley is both a pop culture icon and an embodiment of the spirit of Jamaica. The dreadlocked global superstar was not only famous for his unique sound and for trailblazing the reggae genre, in which he fused ska and rocksteady, but also for his tremendously powerful political voice. Notably, in 1978 Marley was awarded the United Nations Peace Medal of the Third World for helping to fight for justice and peace in third world countries.
It is no wonder that Playful Productions, Stage Play and Cedella Marley have brought Get Up, Stand Up the Bob Marley Musical to the stage, with a book by award-winning Lee Hall whose previous successes include Billy Elliot and Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour. The show is directed by the acclaimed Clint Dyer who was made deputy artistic director at the National Theatre earlier this year.
This epic biopic of Marley’s life and his magical music has been hugely anticipated, opening last night in London’s West End with great panache to an enthralled audience. Chloe Lamford’s set of stacked grey-toned sound systems creates a great backdrop to showcase the vibrancy of this wonderful all-rocking all-singing production, along with spectacular lighting design from Charles Balfour and a powerful series of video projections designed by Tal Yarden.
The opening scene is big and bold featuring the whole ensemble with Arinzé Kene, who delivers a stellar performance as Bob Marley, introducing the band, cast and characters, before performing ‘Lively Up Yourself’ and then setting off on a fast-paced journey through his extraordinary life.
The narrative takes us from Marley’s childhood where he was sent away for a ‘better life’ by his mother at an early age to go and live with his Scottish father in Kingston, Jamaica. But his father wasn’t interested and farmed the young boy out to live with another woman with several children. A few years later his mother, discovering he has been abandoned, brings him home. During his teenage years, his passion for music begins, and we go on to see the emergence of Marley’s early music career as he teams up with Peter Tosh (Natey Jones) and Bunny Wailer (Jacade Simpson) to form the Wailers, with their early records produced and released by Lloyd Coxsone who controlled the Jamaican music industry at the time.
The Marley songbook is cleverly interwoven into the narrative, crowd-pleasing with many of his popular numbers featured including ‘Trench Town Rock’, Could You be Loved’ ‘Jamming’ and ‘I Shot the Sheriff.’ We see him courting Rita who goes on to become his wife, with one of his biggest hits ‘Is This Love’. Gabrielle Brooks gives an outstanding performance as Rita Marley; she has a rollicking good voice and powerfully pulls on emotional heartstrings with her beautiful rendition of ‘No Woman No Cry’ in the second act.
We see how Marley was backed by Chris Blackwell at Island Records, but how their success in Britain led to the split of the band with Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer making their exit. However, Marley integrates Rita, Marcia Griffith (Melissa Brown Taylor) and Judy Mowatt (Sophia Mackay) into his backing his group. Global success beckons.
The show does not shy away from the difficult issues in Marley’s career, it was his involvement in the political scene that caused an assassination attempt on his life whilst at home with Rita, though injured he still went on to perform at the Smile Jamaica concert two days later. Marley was known to have conducted a series of amorous affairs and fathered many children which are only touched upon. It was, in particular his relationship with Cindy Breakspeare, who became Miss World that came under the spotlight. Here Cindy is played by Shanay Holmes who gives a remarkably strong and vocally rich performance.
However, Marley’s unwillingness to acknowledge his ill health tragically led to an untimely early death from cancer at the age of 36, but he remains a legend to this day and this production only reminds us of that. There is a tender scene when Marley speaks to his younger self who is scared of dying, promising that his music will always live on.
This for the most part is a joyous musical, with Musical Director Sean Green capturing the reggae rhythms along with the talented band of musicians. But it’s the second half that really comes to life, bursting with energy and full of heart, with tremendous ensemble work and a sterling, physically expressive cast.
Daniel Bailey gives a standout performance as Lee Scratch Perry and Arinzé makes a hugely credible Marley, with his all-round talent and perfectly pitched movements and vocal attributes, but you can’t help notice his muscular physique, which is squeezed into 70s style flares, not quite the scrawny Bob we know.‘Redemption Song’ adds a touch of current political resonance. However, the overarching theme of unity in ‘One Love’ permeates the whole show and leaves the entire audience feeling uplifted, by which time everyone is aching to let their hair down and get up and dance …and they do!GET UP, STAND UP! THE BOB MARLEY MUSICALBooking through till 18 September 2022
29 Shaftesbury Ave
Box Office 0330 333 4812
Tickets start at £20. Please note that tickets can be exchanged up to at least 24 hours before the event
Looking for something different in the West End, London – we also recommend The Mirror and the Light at the Gielgud Theatre. Check our review