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Get Up, Stand Up! The Bob Marley Musical

It is called Get Up, Stand Up, I suppose, and the musical performances are strong enough such that the audience does indeed get to its feet of its own accord at the end of the show, without any of the cajoling for audience responses that came at the start of proceedings. But the narrative arc of the show is effectively Bob Marley’s (1945-1981) (Arinzé Kene) Wikipedia entry on stage. There are even signs displayed on screens to denote key events and the time period in which they took place.

Arinzé Kene as Bob Marley - photo by Craig Sugden
Arinzé Kene as Bob Marley – photo by Craig Sugden.

Family? Tick. Religious views? Tick. Business nous with regard to record deals, a refusal to undergo a medical procedure which could well have prevented his premature death, and the 1978 One Love Peace Concert in Jamaica? Tick, tick, tick.

Some effort is made to seamlessly transition from the spoken dialogue to a Bob Marley song – his wife Rita (Gabrielle Brooks) brings the house down in the second half, vocally gaining the upper hand even over Kene’s Bob. For those who (for whatever reason) know nothing at all about Bob Marley, this show holds educational value – if you can understand the Jamaican accents and terminology: admittedly, I couldn’t follow all of it. It would, I think, have worked better following a similar format to Thriller Live, which was in the same venue (Lyric Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue) for over a decade previously – put some narrative details in by all means but let the music do the majority of the work, and let the evening be a celebration of Marley’s music and life.

Instead, for instance, a point is over-laboured about Marley and the other original Wailers, Peter Tosh (Natey Jones) and Bunny Wailer (Jacade Simpson), trying and failing to hail a taxi in Leicester one cold, wintry night. The production has plenty of video projections and still images to supplement the songs and the story, though not all of them made sense, at least not to me: how on earth was Bob Marley (died 11 May 1981) in any way responsible for the Grenfell Tower disaster (14 June 2017)? A hard-working cast pull out all the stops to bring Marley’s music to life, and while some deep and meaningful conversations – and indeed, speeches – were only to be expected (of course it wasn’t wall to wall “jamming in the name of the Lord”) the evening is at times tepid and uneven.

There are some gripping moments to (sort of) make up for it, but a West End show shouldn’t be lukewarm in the first place. Telling an entire life story in two and a half hours including interval is ambitious, even one whose life ended at just 36 years of age. The songs are enjoyable and memorable, but the story felt like a sightseeing bus tour, scratching the surface of everything but not delving into the depth of anything. Less really is sometimes more.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

Get yourself where the action is and experience the remarkable story of Jamaica’s rebel superstar. The irresistible new production, Get Up, Stand Up! The Bob Marley Musical has come to life at the Lyric Theatre, London and the message is out. “It isn’t just a joyful night out it’s a major and important cultural event” (The Evening Standard).

From the hills of rural Jamaica, blending visionary musical talent and revolutionary zeal, Bob Marley set out to touch the world with his inspirational musical message and soul-stirring advocacy for the oppressed. With unlimited access to Marley’s superlative songs of love and unity, the multi-award-winning team of Lee Hall (writer), Clint Dyer (director) and Arinzé Kene (playing Bob Marley) embody the militant spirit and moving story of one of music’s most significant cultural figures. A sensational company of performers combine with the very best reggae musicians to bring this inspirational tale of passion, political transformation and enduring hope from Trenchtown to the West End.

Get Up, Stand Up! The Bob Marley Musical
Lyric Theatre
29 Shaftesbury Avenue London W1D 7ES

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