Birmingham Repertory Theatre presents the world premiere production of One Love: The Bob Marley Musical. Written and directed by Kwame Kwei Armah, this brand new musical is so much more than a juke-box style tribute act. Set across a dramatic period in the music legend’s life, we see Bob Marley caught in the cross-fire between opposing political parties, as his beloved homeland of Jamaica is on the brink of civil war. Torn between his family, religion and the duty he feels to unite his people with his music and his message, One Love is Bob Marley’s coming of age story.
It wouldn’t be possible to write a Bob Marley musical with using his songs. So indicative of the time and mood in which they were written, writer Armah threads the famous reggae tunes throughout the story to plot Marley’s development as an artist, his growing religious beliefs, outrage at the assassination attempt on his life and his overriding message of peace and unity. Songs are alternately performed as set pieces – in a recording studio or stadium – or as part of the dialogue. These two contrasting methods give fascinating insights into Bob Marley the performer, and the influences and inspiration he drew from the people around him.
If you didn’t get the chance to see Bob Marley live, actor Mitchell Brunings is without a doubt the next best thing, bringing every detail of the reggae star to astonishing life. His clear, emotive voice is so similar to Marley’s own; if you closed your eyes it would be difficult to hear the difference. However, with eyes open, you appreciate Brunings’ intelligent, committed performance. He is every inch Marley, from the trademark dreadlocks to his flowing dance moves. With an almost childlike, unshakeable conviction in each word and every gesture, Brunings is a compelling figure. His powerful performance begins to explain why music fans have been drawn to Marley’s story and his philosophy for generations.
The vocal performances across the board are exceptional, with meltingly beautiful harmonies and voices imbued with heart-wrenching emotion. Alexia Khadime gives a moving performance as Rita Marley; her voice contrastingly rich and beautifully delicate, conveying the tumultuous life of Marley’s wife.
There are moments in which this fledgeling musical falters. Transitions between dialogue and song often feel forced, as Armah wrestles with the organic style which reggae demands, and the need to provide crowd-pleasing musical numbers. However, such moments are rare and will surely ease with time.
One Love: The Bob Marley Musical brings to life the joy and love that people feel for Bob Marley and his music. The inspirational finale sees people of all generations and cultures on their feet, dancing and singing along, united by reggae rhythms and the overriding message of peace and tolerance. A musical with genuine heart and soul, which captures the incandescent spirit of a legend.
One Love: The Bob Marley Musical is at Birmingham Rep until 14 April and tickets can be found here.