Monday, 3 October 2022

REVIEW: Get Up, Stand Up! at the Lyric Theatre

The legend of Bob Marley’s global music status has continued to grow since his early demise at just 36 from cancer in 1981 and if ever an artiste had earned a theatrical music jukebox show it is surely him. But Get up, Stand up is much more than a celebration of his music and although staged in a concert format they do not shy away from his back story and the political and cultural context of his music. And then simply and effectively remind us that although there has been progress and integration there is still more to do on equality, diversity, and representation of the communities he championed. The use of images and headlines throughout on-screen and on-stage props provides insight into his world.

The show centres inevitably on the central performances of Michael Duke as Bob Marley and Gabrielle Brooks as his long-suffering wife Rita. Their relationship is at the heart of the show from their first meeting in the mid-sixties to his final concert in 1980 and explores how their marriage was tested by his long relationship with Miss Jamaica, later Miss World, Cindy Breakspheare played by Shanay Holmes. Together Rita and Bob delightfully deliver “Is this love” (1978). As his dreadlocks grow so his music develops leading to climatic conclusions of each act. Act 1 ends with “I shot the sheriff” (1973) and “Jamming” (1977) songs that had global reach transcending his cultural roots and leading him to be accused of selling out. Act 2 ends with “One love” (1977, released as a single in 1984) and “Get up, Stand up” (1973), the last song he played live, with their emotional messages of the power of love and the need to stand up for your rights and equality. In between, we get the show-stopping “No woman, no cry” (1975) sung powerfully and emotionally by Rita. Just as when these songs were first released the rhythmic music and strong vocals connect with the audience and bring waves of deserved applause. It must be hoped that the new cast can sustain this quality.

There is excellent support from Natey Jones and Jacade Simpson as the original Wailers band members Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer and Henry Fabre as Chris Blackwell the founder of Island Records whose speculative advance set them on the road to global fame. Maxwell Cole played little Bob on the night I went with an energy and charm that delightfully kept reminding us of his dysfunctional family and the poverty of his beginnings as his global stardom grew.

Of course, the rich sound of the reggae music is essential to the show and the band were excellent including the addition of a small brass section and a strong baseline vibration through the auditorium so you could really feel the music. The cultural background was never far away in the storytelling with political and racial tensions always underpinning the narrative. His appearance at the Smile Jamacia 1976 concert, after an assassination attempt, and at the Pittsburgh Concert in 1980 while seriously ill emphasised his commitment to change through his music and using his global appeal to good effect. The powerful “Redemption song” (1980) regarded by many as his greatest song and described as the most influential recording in Jamaican music history with its lyric “none but ourselves can free our minds” remains as powerful and moving today as when it was written. An anthem and an enduring legacy that underpins his legendary status.

This is a wonderful show setting out Bob Marley’s life story and reflecting the cultural background of racial tension, drugs, violence, and politics but showing how he grew into a Global Icon with a musical style that broke down barriers and extended across cultures. Go hear his story and by the end, you are sure to get up, stand up in his honour.

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★★★

Seat: Stalls, Row K | Price of Ticket: £99.50
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