Right topic, wrong show? Wrong venue? Get Up, Stand Up! The Bob Marley Musical is packing them into the Lyric Theatre, but could be so much more artistically interesting
“Half the story has never been told”
In some ways, expecting anything different was always going to be a fool’s errand. Get Up, Stand Up! The Bob Marley Musical ticks pretty much all of the boxes of your typical West End bio-jukebox musical – huge charismatic lead performance and a story that has been sanitised enough to get the approval of the appropriate estate. You just hoped that with Lee Hall writing, it would have been stronger dramatically.
The result is that Clint Dyer’s highly energetic production skates by on the shiniest of surface looks at the hugely fascinating character that was Bob Marley, and indeed of those around him. It would be unfair to label this as an extended tribute concert but the speed with which we skip through the show’s 29 songs means that there really isn’t much time to engagement with any of the wide-ranging issues here substantively.
So there’s no room to look into his politics or his religion in any great depth but we do get some focus on his infidelities, the interplay between his wife Rita and lover Cindy offering up some of the few moments that strike home, particularly when Gabrielle Brooks and Shanay Holmes respectively get to put their own stamp on the songbook. And this is the frustration, the hints of something more profound that could have been.
But what we do get is a titanic leading performance from Arinzé Kene as the man himself. He dominates the stage throughout, in front on Tal Yarden’s evocative video work on Chloe Lamford’s musically inclined set design. And he is such a strong, characterful presence that you’re almost inclined to forgive the show all its sins, blessed with a stunning vocal performance that doesn’t waver in the tribute that it pays.