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Posts Tagged ‘Bob Marley’

All the best ‘juke-box musicals’ are biographical – Jersey Boys, Sunny Afternoon, Beautiful, Tina – and you can add this to the list, but it’s edgier than the others, and has a political dimension too. It also has a towering performance from Arinze Kene as Bob Marley. Though I lived through his active years in London, and liked his music, I wouldn’t call myself a fan. After hearing the songs again after so long, though, my appreciation of them, particularly lyrically, has grown significantly.

It tells his story from a troubled childhood, effectively abandoned by both his parents until he was 6, through his first recording in Jamaica, the formation of The Wailers, marriage to Rita, adoption of the Rastafarian religion, his first period in London from 1972-76, attempted assassination back in Jamaica as he becomes involved in politics and his second period in London up to his untimely death in the US at 36. Lee Hall’s excellent book makes this into a very lucid story and makes no attempt to bury the flaws, notably his treatment of the women in his life.

Clint Dyer’s impeccable direction has bucketloads of energy, with the music propelling Marley’s story forward, providing the anchor and emotional drive. Chloe Lamford’s wall-of-speakers design, enabling performances on three levels, a supersized version of the one in Sunny Afternoon, is matched by a wall of sound, with the bass vibrating my stalls seat. It’s a great ensemble, with Gabrielle Brooks shining as Rita, and Arinze Kene mesmerising as Marley, with vocal and dance skills matching his superb acting. I’ve loved every one of the four previous performances of his I’ve seen – One Night in Miami, Girl from the North Country, Misty and Death of a Salesman – but this is very special indeed.

The term juke-box musical is often used as a derogatory one, and the genre is sometimes derided, so I’ll call this by a much more accurate term – a musical biography – and it’s an extraordinary example of this genre. Final call-out for the programme, just about the only one in the West End worth the money!

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