Experienced by Kimatni D. Rawlins
“I’m not special, this is Jah works and whatever I’m doing is for Jah” he would calmly reply to Rita Marley when she claimed he was great and special. Immensely humble, Tuff Gong, as he was aptly dubbed by inner Kingston circles, gave his life to God and shared his blessings with the world. Whether one is observing from a historical, political or cultural perspective, you will arrive to the conscious understanding that Robert Nesta Marley is far more than just an international music icon, he is in fact a legend.
Pertinently titled “Marley,” Baltimore’s Center Stage has created an entertaining musical featuring some of the most pivotal moments and highlights of both Bob’s personal life and highly praised, ingenious music career. Currently running until June 14th, the play poignantly touches upon the King of Reggae’s relationship with friends, family, confidants, spiritual advisors and band members from the viewpoint of both The Wailers and the I-Threes. Discovered on The Voice (Holland) and discovered by Artistic Director Kwame Kwei-Armah, lead actor Mitchell Brunings profoundly resembles Bob from charisma, voice and euphoria to dancing, soccer and emotional mood swings. Yes, Bob was tough from his Trenchtown upbringing, but also experienced intense levels of sadness due to uncontrolling circumstances that would leave any man or woman broken.
Representing the first theatrical performance of Tuff Gong’s music and lyrics, Marley will have you dancing to the rastaman vibrations and chanting to his natural mystic. Every element of the play incorporates the lifestyle of Jamaica and its indigenous music from the 1970s, which is spiritually interconnected with The Motherland. For example, upon entering the atrium of Center Stage you find yourself in an island oasis replete with sand, bungalows, dancers and a reggae DJ spinning the tunes of Kingston’s finest. Instantly guests are immersed into positive vibes and “One Love” ecstasy before setting foot in the auditorium. Even the semi-circle stage is centered with the cover art of vinyl reggae records. Every spot in the house is positioned in close proximity to the stage and the above dancing seats allow spectators to bend down low with the rhythm. As I sporadically gazed overhead to view the scene in totality many were jamming with each electrifying performance while the cast organically interacted with the crowd with themes correlating to the song’s message.
“We are so fortunate to have assembled such a brilliant group of actors who are recognized for their stellar work on television and film screens and stages all over the world – from Broadway to London’s West End, and Jamaica to Baltimore – to tell the story of this remarkable chapter in Bob Marley’s life,” stated Kwei-Armah.
The play depicts two transformative periods in Bob Marley’s existence. The Smile Jamaica Concert of December 5, 1976 was envisioned to unify the Jamaican people by way of Bob Marley & The Wailers’ soulful singing and dancing. Though, the resonance took a turn when Prime Minister Michael Manley announced a snap election shortly after publicizing the concert. Then a few days prior to hitting the stage, 56 Hope Road was riddled with bullets fired by masked men which struck Bob in the arm and grazed Rita’s head. Kwei-Armah movingly captured this emotional scene and the worries from Bob, his band and management team. Yet, an ultimate decision was made to perform for his 80,000 countrymen in attendance at National Heroes Park. If you have been to visit Marley’s former home for a tour, as I have on several occasions, the acts become much more palpable and relatable. The 90-minute set included War, No More Trouble, Get Up Stand Up, Crazy Baldhead, Positive Vibration, Rat Race, TrenchTown Roc, Keep on Moving, Want More, Them Belly Full, Jah Live, Rastaman Chant, Rebel Music, So Jah She and Smile Jamaica which was written by Bob at the behest of Manley to uplift the people of Jamaica.
After the concert Bob jettisoned to London for a voluntary exile. Far from the reach of his family and home alike, Bob became the archetype for a new form of international reggae that intermixed the sounds of pop and rock for instance. Punky Reggae Party, my favorite tune, is one of these manifestations. But enough was enough and Bob needed to return home. Perhaps, Marley’s most defining moment (viewed as political to a majority) was bringing together Manley and Edward Seaga, the Leader of the Opposition on stage, hand-in-hand during his mesmerizing performance of Jamming at the One Love Peace Concert in April of 1978. Bob simply viewed it as an act of affection while The Most High took over his spirit that evening. Additional heartfelt scenes from Bob’s life is re-enacted by way of the following “Marley” scenes:
- Performance with Stevie Wonder
- Bob’s discussion with Rita over a studio and new kitchen plans for 56 Hope Road
- Bob meeting Prime Minister Michael Manley
- Bob’s romantic times with Cindy Breakspeare
- Don Letts insistence that Bob explore the London street scene
- Island Records offers The Wailers a deal
- Bob injures toe playing soccer (this ultimately leads to his sickness)
- Bob visits Ethiopia
Collectively every character’s role was of intimate importance for bringing Bob’s constellation of experiences to life. The additional and significant actors and actresses who contributed to the magical performance of Marley included John Patrick Hayden playing Chris Blackwell (Island Records,) David Heron as Tony Welsh (People’s National Party), Jonathan Hooks symbolizing Aston “Family Man” Barrett, Crystal Joy as I-Three singer Judy Mowatt, Mykal Kilgore representing musical superstar Stevie Wonder, Michael Luwoye playing the outspoken Peter Tosh, Ano Okera standing in for music producer Don Letts, Howard W. Overshown as Prime Minister Michael Manley, Saycon Sengbloh characterizing the magnetic Rita Marley, Damian Thompson playing icon Bunny Wailer, Michaela Waters for Miss World Cindy Breakspeare and Susan Kelechi Watson embodying I-Three singer Marcia Griffiths.
“Mi see myself as a revolutionary. Who don’t have no help and take no bribe from no one and fight it single-handed with music.” – Robert Nesta Marley
For more information on Bob Marley and the “Marley” musical please visit: www.BobMarley.com and www.centerstage.org.
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