Rush Theatre company bought the King of Reggae to Birmingham Rep and really raised the roof. I can’t tell you exactly what I was expecting, perhaps some sort of musical tribute akin to Mamma Mia! a broadway style fictional story with the music of Bob Marley intertwined with dancers and actors but what we got this evening was something very different. A very special performance indeed.
I feel like not only have I been to a music concert, but that I have also been educated and have that energised feeling of empowerment one gets from heading to a protest. After the last couple of weeks with the Queen’s passing dominating the news it’s been a very melancholic atmosphere and singing along to the standing ovation of One Love at the show this evening was just what I needed to pick myself back up.
The King of Reggae is a wonderful telling of the Story of Robert Nesta Marley. The icon that he is: I thought I knew everything there was to know having been raised listening to his music and even checking the Wikipedia biography to do my research, yet this evening I learnt some new and interesting facts about his life as told by our wonderful narrator.
The King of Reggae is not a tribute act, it’s something entirely different. To call it that would do an injustice to the artists on the stage. Each person on the stage this evening was talented in their own right and you sense a real passion for the music. The audience cheered raucously for every single solo riff – from the keyboards, percussionists, guitarists and the saxophonist to the beautiful mellow tones of our beautiful backing vocalists. When the ensemble of the Ja Reggae band comes together with such a wonderful back catalogue of music it is somewhat magical.
I have to give a special mention to “Bob” who so graciously took on such an iconic role. Whilst dressed for the occasion with double denim in the first half and a tracksuit for the second half he captured the essence of Bob, but without trying too hard. This is exactly where I think this performance succeeded where others fail.
His voice was somewhat soulful, smoother than Bob Marley perhaps but this is where I think this works best as I felt like I was at a “real” concert and not watching anyone trying to poorly imitate Bob Marley. I’ve seen many tribute acts and they often fall short because they struggle to capture what it takes to represent a man who means so much to so many people. He was relaxed throughout and this resonated in the audience reactions this evening.
The style of narration was unique. I never would have thought that a simple PowerPoint and the impassioned story telling from one woman could invoke such passion, but that it did. Jannette Barratt – Lyricist B offered us the context in which some of the worlds most popular songs were written and intertwined this with poignant commentary on the relevance of Bob Marley’s music for us today.
With this emotive story telling woven between the musical numbers it was she who told the story, so there was no broadway style nonsense acting which wouldn’t have been fitting. Bob interacted briefly at moments. There were laughs and heartfelt pauses for thought as we went on a journey from rural Jamaica to the epiphany of self discovery which climaxed in a rendition of One Love which had the entire audience on their feet.
Any evening which is filled with music by Bob Marley was always going to be a hit with me. As a teenager with pent up angst and frustrations I had the lyrics of Redemption song scrawled on to my school planner as a mark of protest. The words resonated with me then, and created a fire inside me, such is the power of Bob Marleys music.
Tonight I feel as though I know more. More about why these songs were written, and the impact they had on the world. The relevance too that these songs still have today.
This is a story that needed to be told. It’s certainly one worth listening to and I can’t think of any better way than how a rush Theatre company have pulled this off.
My favourite song from the entire performance was not however the powerful acoustic version of my beloved redemption song or the arousing rendition of Exodus. There was a beautiful moment between our narrator and her DJ partner dancing together to ‘waiting in vain.’ – You can see just how much the music of Bob Marley matters to every single person on stage and this feeling is shared with the audience too.
I also need to get myself some flashing LED shoes!
The King Of Reggae production premiered at Wolverhampton Grand on April 28th 2022 and is touring until 2023 – check out the website for more information