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Posts Tagged ‘Gabrielle Brooks’

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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The perfect start to Kwame Kwei-Armah’s tenure at the Young Vic – a great big populist hit. This 90-minute musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s play, which loses much of the verse but none of the story, is bursting with energy and fun, joyous and uplifting.

It’s a musical comedy, so the spotlight is on the antics of Olivia’s uncle Sir Toby Belch, his friend Sir Andrew Aguecheek and Olivia’s maid Maria and the trick they play on her steward Malvolio (the contemporary take on yellow stockings and crossed garters is delicious!), but the love triangle of Orsino pining for Olivia whilst she’s attracted to Viola as Cesario who is herself infatuated with Orsino is handled brilliantly. When Viola’s supposedly dead brother Sebastian turns up, and Malvolio uncovers the plot against him, the resolution is rather moving, despite the comedy.

Designer Robert Jones has built a whole Notting Hill street (with the Duke of Illyria its pub!) in the Young Vic auditorium; an absolutely brilliant set. The eleven Shakespearean characters are supplemented by a thirty strong community chorus who fill the stage and are so good you’d never know it wasn’t a professional one. Shaina Taub’s score is fairly vanilla pop, as is Lizzi Gee’s choreography, but they both do the job and its well sung, played and danced.

The performances are outstanding, led by Gerard Carey as Malvolio, one of the finest comic performances I’ve seen in a lifetime of devotion to theatre. Gabrielle Brooks is simply brilliant as Viola / Cesario, handling the frisson with Orsino superbly and her reunion with Sebastian movingly, with beautiful vocals. Natalie Drew and Rupert Young are both superb as Olivia and Orsino. The comic duo of Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek are finely played by Martyn Ellis and Silas Wyatt-Barke, and there’s a lovely Feste from Melissa Allan, who sings beautifully.

Oskar Eustis co-directs this captivating piece with Kwei-Armah, who co-conceived it with Taub. A treat.

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