As I mentioned in an earlier review this week, biographical jukebox musicals have surged in popularity recently. And one of the newest shows in the West End focuses on the legendary Bob Marley.

© Craig Sugden

Get Up, Stand Up! The Bob Marley Musical uses an entirely different format to other jukebox musicals. There are parts of this show that feel as though you are at a concert, with the heavy bass, of Tony Gayle’s sound design, vibrating beneath your feet.

Chloe Lamford’s set consists of a wall of large speakers which the cast climb upon to perform during the show. However, this set doesn’t change throughout the performance, which means scenes such as Marley’s childhood are told in front of speakers, which slightly dampens the authenticity of the storytelling. Tal Yarden’s videos and images are projected onto these speakers, occasionally the headlines which are projected are not the clearest – but this is remedied by having screens dotted around the auditorium, so you are able to see the videos more clearly.

Michael Duke as Bob Marley is the undisputed star of this show, spending majority of the run time onstage, and single-handedly performing most of the 29 songs packed into this musical. If this is as vocally and physically demanding as one would think, Duke does not show this in his performance, which remains high energy and pitch perfect throughout, embodying Marley completely.

© Craig Sugden

Cleopatra Ray is exceptional as Rita Marley (the role is usually played by Gabrielle Brooks, but Ray was performing on the evening I went). Her performance of ‘No Woman No Cry’ is a scene-stealing showstopper. She displays powerhouse vocals and puts so much character and passion into the performance, I’m sure that every woman in the audience wanted to stand up and sing along with her, as she finally puts Marley in his place.

Lee Hall’s book is not the strongest aspect of this show, with short and snappy scenes, we are only provided a snapshot into Marley’s life. The story progresses from Marley’s childhood to adulthood at breakneck speed. And at times it feels as though the story is forgotten, and more focus is placed on packing as much of Marley’s glorious back catalogue into the show as possible.

At times the show is on the cusp of being a tribute act. This is down to the material and NOT Duke’s performance, which he brings his own edge to whilst staying true to Marley’s character. What would help the show avoid wandering into the tribute act territory, is more focus on other characters in Marley’s life and more dialogue. It would also be good if more songs could be sung by other members of the cast, as the vast majority are taken on by Duke’s Marley.

I loved that Jamaican slang was incorporated throughout the production, and that there was no toning down of accents, both of which added authenticity to the show and the performances.

Many important messages are intertwined throughout the show such as politics, police brutality and racism. Yarden’s projections show newspaper headlines of major events throughout Marley’s life. Although, perhaps Marley’s life is too complex to be covered in a 2-hour 40-minute show (including interval), his life may have been cut short at 36 years, but it was a unique life with much to cover.

© Craig Sugden

Get Up, Stand Up! is essential viewing. There is a severe lack of black stories being told on main stages, and what’s even more lacking is Jamaican stories. Diverse storytelling is of the utmost importance, as it allows another perspective to be heard, allowing us to learn and evolve into a more inclusive society and giving recognition to those voices that were previously ignored. I also believe Bob Marley’s music fits perfectly into a stage show, and that this production will encourage more people into the theatre that may not usually go – which is a testament to Marley’s music.

This production may not be perfect, but it is still enjoyable. There’s something about Marley’s music that makes you want to sway along and stand up and dance (you do get a chance at the end!). The show has so much heart and allows a glimpse into a culture that’s rarely shown in mainstream entertainment. Duke’s performance is worth the ticket price alone.

The show is only in the West End until the 8th of January before it heads on a national tour. So, Get Up, Stand Up and buy a ticket.

Rating: 3 out of 5.
Get Up, Stand Up!Lyric TheatreUntil 8th January 2023


{🎟 AD – PR invite – Tickets were gifted in exchange for an honest review}

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