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One Love: The Bob Marley Musical review at Birmingham Repertory Theatre – ‘boldly told’

Mitchell Brunings in One Love: The Bob Marley Musical. Photo: Helen Maybanks
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“Let’s get together and feel all right,” is the prominent refrain of Bob Marley’s hit song One Love. It’s also the take-home message of the new bio-musical created around his life and repertoire, and the words which the entire audience – as is now the established tradition for such shows – stands together and joins in with at the curtain call reprise.

Marley’s career was often about not feeling all right, as he battled private, public and political demons, expressed in his vibrant appropriation and international popularisation of reggae music. That music proves to be a unifier as well, and it’s the glue that holds Kwame Kwei-Armah’s impressionistically told story together as it charts his rise from Trench Town in Jamaica, as part of The Wailers, to global superstar. Central to the show and the story is the 1978 peace concert that brought him back home as a local hero and saw the island’s rival politic leaders, Prime Minister Michael Manley and leader of the opposition Edward Seaga appearing on the stage together to hold hands above his head.

While Motown makes use of a succession of hits that came out of Berry Gordy’s eponymous hit factory, One Love attempts something far more specific, relating the man to a movement. Kwei-Armah, who first developed the show at Baltimore’s Center Stage, folds the songs smartly into a musical fabric. It’s thrilling in its delivery, thanks to a stunning onstage band led by Sean Green, and Mitchell Brunings gives a charismatic performance as the conflicted Marley.

Ultz’s industrial box set is supplemented by evocative projections by Duncan McLean and live video to set locations and context, but it’s the songs – and Coral Messam’s lively choreography – that provide the fireworks.

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A great soundtrack, stunningly performed, in this boldly told bio-musical