THEATRE REVIEW: Get Up, Stand Up! The Bob Marley Musical starring Arinze Kene at the Lyric Theatre

WORTH A LOOK?: ****1/2

WHEN?: Sunday 3 October 2021, opens 20 October, booking to 3 April 2022 RUNTIME: 150 minutes (including a 20-minute interval) UPDATE: now booking to 18 September 2022

The biggest compliment we can pay this jukebox musical is that it worked its audience up at only this 3rd preview into such a frenzy that 2 songs before the finish everyone was up on their feet, dancing and singing along.

  • Read on for reasons including how Kene is 1 of this country’s finest performers but here the whole ensemble shines

There are 2 moments before we get to this point where the entire production raises the bar in unison and the 1st is when Gabrielle Brooks (Twelfth Night, Young Vic) as Marley’s wife Rita explodes at how badly she is being treated by her womanising husband during an electrifying No Woman, No Cry.

It is sung with such passion and righteous indignation that you can’t help but empathise with a woman who has been sidelined in Jamiaca as Marley fathers a child with a former Miss World in London.

Almost immediately afterwards Kene (Misty, Bush Theatre and Trafalgar Studios) addresses the audience directly during Redemption Song and Three Little Birds and we suddenly have a much clearer understanding of what this reggae superstar stood for and what motivates him.

Kene won our Best Theatre Actor monsta in 2018 for Misty, a piece of gig theatre about east London’s gentrification amongst other things, and gives us a far more physical and dynamic Marley than we were expecting but it is an exceptional performance which underlines rightly why he was an icon adored by so many.

At a time when other West End musicals like Six are advertising singalong performances a more traditional theatre audience might have been put off by the crowd reaction here which which was to break into spontaneous applause, whoop and very audibly chant along.

But in many ways Get Up, Stand Up! is all about enticing into a theatre an audience that might never have felt catered for by the sector in the past.

We’re not massive Marley fans but Could You Be Loved is one of our favourite tracks of his and when an entire band arrives onstage to blast it out the effect is like that moment at a gig when a seated audience decides as 1 that it needs to rise to its feet out of pure enjoyment.

Get Up, Stand Up! is directed by Clint Dyer who was behind last year’s triumphant Death Of England: Delroy at the National which won our Best Theatre Actor and Best New Play monstas in 2020.

Here he decorates the stages with wooden boxes that resemble speakers amplifying the booming bass of the ska, incorporates screens into the lids of boxes used to transport staging between gigs and is never afraid to put the singing and the live music that is at the heart of the piece’s appeal centrestage.

We were less impressed by Lee Hall’s book (Our Ladies Of Perpetual Succour, West End) but in many ways it has the trickiest job to do in threading together a story that includes cancer, assassination attempts and a lead character whose behaviour is not always sympathetic.

We’d say this piece takes a little while to warm up but when it does in Act Two it absolutely ignites. We didn’t come into it knowing all the songs and did so with only a basic knowledge of Marley’s back catalogue but the songs really did make us understand his appeal.

As a piece of musical theatre it works and is likely to introduce a whole new audience to Bob Marley as it inevitably transfers from its London place of birth to multiple international destinations in the many years of life it has yet to come.

  • Picture by Craig Sugden Photography via Facebook courtesy Get Up, Stand Up! Tickets
  • Have you seen these shows or heard these songs? Let us know in the comments below
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