The tag line for Get Up, Stand Up! The Bob Marley Musical is ‘half the story has never been told’, so it should be safe to assume that this new musical, now open at the West End’s Lyric Theatre, sets out with the intention of setting the record straight.
It’s difficult to ever criticise the music in a jukebox musical; the songs are already well established and unlike purpose written musicals, the audience come in with an already high level of expectation. Even patrons who are not Bob Marley fans will recognise hit after hit as they play out across the auditorium.
Easier to find fault is in the story that ties the songs together, Lee Hall’s book struggles to adequately tell that missing half of the story. The first act in particular has issues with pacing, the audience often feeling like a coiled spring waiting to be let loose on the next song.
The second act fares better, but the script seems to go off in odd directions and the dialogue just doesn’t resonate as being authentic enough. On the whole Get Up, Stand Up! can’t find a sweet spot between musical, concert and political play.
That said, it does serve as a timely reminder of the extraordinary life that Marley lived, and highlights how a tragically short life spawned so much incredible music, with Phil Bateman’s incredible arrangements giving each song new meaning and depth.
Arinzé Kene leads the cast as the title character, and it’s a powerful performance that has been honed to perfection. Gabrielle Brooks also dazzles as Rita Marley (although is absent from the stage for what feels like too long) and her arresting rendition of ‘No Woman No Cry’ has the audience eating out the palm of her hand. Shanay Holmes also gives a passionate turn as Cindy Breakspeare, one of Marley’s many ‘other women’.
With strong direction from Clint Dyer, Get Up, Stand Up! does not shy away from showing all the different sides of Marley, whether they be good or bad. It does help give a rounded view of the man, but again often it feels like so much more could have been done with the story.
Get Up, Stand Up! does achieve the aim stated in the title, the audience were all too happy to both get up and stand up at various points during the production, and were on their feet for the entire latter part of the second act. The production seems to have failed to have predicted when these moments would take place, with some key plot points lost behind the noise of the audience.
The staging is sparse, Chloe Lamford’s set made up of large amplifiers and nothing more; it helps with the concept of the concert aspect but leaves the vibrancy of Reggae music feeling flat and dull. That feeling runs all the way through Get Up, Stand Up!; rhythmic performances with a book that’s lacking, soulful music with awkward pacing.
As ever, it will be the music of Marley that audiences latch on to, and for that reason Get Up, Stand Up! will undoubtedly be a hit. Whether or not it succeeds in telling the half of the story that hasn’t been told is debatable, and will probably leave people wanting more from the storyline perspective.