Get Up Stand Up! The Bob Marley Musical

Lee Hall’s Get Up Stand Up! tells Bob Marley’s life story with his songs. 

A pioneer of reggae, Marley created a huge body of work before he died at the age of 36 in 1981. The hackneyed badge of legend is appropriate for a man who increased the popularity of Jamaican music worldwide with his distinctive style and vocals. Using his platform to speak out on democratic social reforms, in the seventies he survived an assassination attempt, believed to be politically motivated. He became known as a Rastafari icon, supported the legalisation of marijuana and advocated for Pan-Africanism. Faced with financial hardship at a young age, he pursued a career in music, forming the “Wailers” with Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer. And the rest, as they say, is history…  

The man and his music are still loved and played everywhere and anywhere!  So, how does Marley’s blend of reggae, ska and rocksteady fare in the ever popular and seemingly incongruous vehicle of the West End jukebox musical? 

Well, “don’t worry about a thing, ‘cause every little thing…” about this is all right!  

Post opening number, Michael Duke who plays Bob, steps out of character to introduce each member of the company and their character. A nice touch, that parades the cast and sets up the story. 

Bob’s life is interesting and dramatized well.  There isn’t much dialogue in favour of packing in the tunes – quite right – they are all infectious and brilliant. TV screens around the theatre show contemporaneous newspaper clippings and photographs giving historical and political context to Marley’s life and influence. 

The characters perform some songs as part of the narrative which fit well, and the talented cast do them justice. But the tunes are best showcased concert style with Marley at the microphone, a band and muffled crowd noises. The ensemble joyfully dances to the upbeat numbers on top of the sound system that engulfs the stage as the brass section, guitarist and drummer join the cast. A sea of bobbing heads ripple through the auditorium and we want to get out of our seats way before we actually leap up at the end. 

Duke embodies Marley, capturing his unique head/dread flicking, lifting up his knees as he dances. His voice is potent, and we are mesmerised by his charismatic performance. His rendition of “Redemption Song” is spine tingling under misty spotlights of the red, yellow and green synonymous with the Rastafarian movement. 

When Bob’s long-suffering wife, Rita Marley (Gabrielle Brooks), sings “No Woman, No Cry”, her anguish is palpable and voice exquisite. Over the audiences’ loud whooping, we hear every note of Brooks’ powerful performance. 

Daniel Bailey opens the show interacting with the audience as Lee Scratch Perry from a DJ booth at the side of the stage. Bailey is a cracking dancer and endearing actor with a dazzling smile. He works hard as multiple characters – we’ll see him as a lead soon enough! 

The second half opens with Exodus. Led by Bob, the male ensemble surge forward through the dry ice of a dimly lit stage. The production encapsulates the message of the song, it’s like we are watching a star in a stadium rather than a musical in a theatre.

Yes, the criticism that it’s a sanitised version of his life is somewhat justified, but this is all about the performances and enjoying the music…

So, this is our message to you… “Get Up Stand Up” and get yourself down to the Lyric Theatre before it closes. We wanted to go again as soon as the curtain dropped. 

Get Up Stand Up! The Bob Marley Musical is playing at the Lyric Theatre until 8 January 2023.  

For tickets: Get Up, Stand Up! The Bob Marley Musical Select Your Tickets - NIMAX THEATRES (getupstandupthemusical.com)

This show was reviewed on the 3rd September 2022 for Box Office Radio.

Photo credit: Craig Sugden

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