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Get Up, Stand Up—the life, music and politics of the rebel Bob Marley

The Bob Marley Musical, in its first year at London’s Lyric Theatre, is a vibrant picture of the life behind the music, says Jeandré Coetser
Issue 2813
Michael Duke as Bob Marley in the musical Get Up Stand Up

Michael Duke as Bob Marley in Get Up, Stand Up!

Get Up, Stand Up begins as a young Bob Marley stands alongside his older self, looking back through a quick progression through his life. We watch his mother send him off to live with his father’s family in Kingston, his subsequent abandonment to violence and poverty—and his interest in music.

It’s a transition from young “rude boy” to a determined almost ethereal soul rebel—a journey that accompanied an amazing discography. We encounter the iconic moment where Marley and the Wailers, cold and somewhat lost in Britain, stroll into Chris Blackwell’s office.

They demand money from the music producer and instead leave with a record deal. Marley is presented here as a heartbreaker, with the story of his political beliefs and activity acting as a sort of subplot to that of his ­relationships and music.

The dialogue in Get Up, Stand Up includes references to his Rastafarian beliefs and his ­criticism of colonialism and working for the “white man’s system”. But it never delves deeper.  At one point it is implied that taking a political stance with his music was a marketing ploy to try and win a cautious white rock audience.

But the soundtrack and set design offered redemption. Projected images illustrate different moments in history, including Jamaican independence, the US Civil Rights Movement, protests and riots. I even spotted a Socialist Worker placard.

The Get Up, Stand Up set is one of radio booth boxes and stacked sound systems, while the cast are decked out in 70s style flare. The music interweaves throughout like a giant concert, with a nod to soul music.

There are many times when the audience can just stand up and groove—definitely a performance highlight. Together, Get Up, Stand Up paints a vibrant picture of the politics and environment that shaped the radical Bob Marley.

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