Lyric Theatre, London
Last week Shaftesbury Avenue saw the long-anticipated arrival of a new musical celebrating the life and career of Bob Marley, Get Up! Stand Up!, which naturally got the audience doing both of those things long before the end. It was originally announced to open in 2020, with Dominic Cooke directing and Kwame Kwei-Armah (who had staged his own Marley musical One Love at Birmingham Rep in 2017) among the producers.
In July 2020, Cooke stepped aside as director, to be replaced by Clint Dyer (now deputy artistic director at the National), and Kwei-Armah is no longer involved. In February, the opening was delayed to October, with the producers stating, “The producers are convinced that this joyous and uplifting show will be at its best when a full house can enjoy the legendary music of Bob Marley. For this reason they have decided to pause until a time when it is possible to open theatres at full capacity.”
They got their wish with a packed house on opening night, with few people wearing masks (though Grace Jones, a few rows in front of me, sported goggles that made her look like a female aviatrix, to quote The Drowsy Chaperone, and the closest fashion comes to a full hazmat suit).
I get it that producers want people to let their hair down, but I’m not sure we should also be letting our guard down so negligently. So my enjoyment of this frequently joyous show was very much tempered by concern, too.
A previous jukebox show Thriller Live!, about another iconic musical superstar Michael Jackson, played a record 11 years at this address, launched long before his death but becoming a shrine for his fans after it; Marley was taken even sooner, at the age of just 36, and the show is itself a worthier celebration of his work and impact than the uncritical Jackson revue was, being altogether more nuanced, exhilarating and polished, too. (MJ, coming to Broadway in December, may offer a more rounded portrait of the problematic Jackson legacy).
It follows the standard tropes of the bio-musical, folding scenes from his life and work around some of his most famous songs; but though reading the programme may give you more information, both on his life and the impact of his work on the creators of this musical than the show eventually does, it rises above its own limitations by the sheer exhilarating force of hearing these songs performed live, with a low but insistent bass beat to the fore in Tony Gayle’s sound design and Sean Green’s musical direction. And Marley is fiercely played by Arinzé Kene, who embraces him (and us) so totally that it is not so much an impersonation as a living embodiment of his spirit.
This is a jukebox show I never thought I needed — but more than earns its place in the West End.
The post Friday reviews: October 22 first appeared on Shenton Stage.
‘This is a jukebox show I never thought I needed, but it more than earns its place in the #WestEnd’: @ShentonStage on #BobMarley musical @GetUpStandUpLdn. #theatrereviews #GetUpStandUp