PREPARATION: Rehearsals for 'One Love' are underway
BIRMINGHAM IS about to outshine London’s theatre land by scooping the honour of staging the UK premiere of One Love: The Bob Marley Musical when it opens at Birmingham Repertory Theatre on Friday 10th March and runs for a month.
The man behind the production – British director, actor and playwright Kwame Kwei-Armah OBE – describes his play as ‘a hero’s journey’ but stresses that it is no ‘sing-along-a-Bob’ type musical where the songs drown out the plot.
Rather, he says it tells the story of a man propelled from rising reggae star to global icon and brings Marley’s inspirational music to the stage for the first time.
It focuses on a crucial three-year period in Marley’s life between 1975 and 1978 when he survived an assassination attempt in an increasingly violent Jamaica and moved to live in London where he recorded classic albums such as Exodus.
Kwei-Armah, who first staged One Love in 2015 in America as artistic director of Baltimore’s Center Stage theatre, said he was ‘phenomenally excited’ to return to Birmingham because he believes the city produces such good audiences.
MAN BEHIND THE MUSIC: Playwright Kwame Kwei-Armah OBE
“We started the tour of my play Elmina’s Kitchen in Birmingham in 2005 before it came into the West End and the members of the audience were fantastic. I remember them so clearly. They were diverse and energetic and so I’m phenomenally excited to be bringing this piece to Birmingham.”
Brought up in Southall, London, and well known for his role as paramedic Finlay Newton in BBC1’s Casualty between 1999 and 2004, Kwei-Armah added:
“It’s hard to describe how much one loves an icon like Bob Marley. His African diasporic voice is among the clearest we have had. I don’t know how to describe my love for his music or his mind.
“When I started thinking about writing something about Bob, one immediately thinks you have to use his music – you can’t just talk about him; however, he’s a hero and I wanted to investigate a hero’s journey.
“We have included maybe 20 songs, but I’ve tried to make them come out of what I perceive to be an integrity that Bob would demand.
“I don’t think you can tell the life story of someone as significant as Bob without feeling fear and what that does is it makes you realise: ‘I have to look after the integrity of this man – the integrity of not just his reputation but of his spirit.’
“This is not ‘sing-along-a-Bob’ – you have to put him in the context of his time and show what a great man he was for his time and for all time. Few artists have had as big an effect on the world as Bob Marley – even fewer have had as big an effect on me.”
The man tasked with the title role for Birmingham’s production is Mitchell Brunings, who sounds uncannily like Marley. The Netherlands-raised singer was spotted by Kwei-Armah after he was runner-up in The Voice of Holland – the original version of the now global TV singing competition.
Brunings’ rendition of Redemption Song went viral and within days Kwei-Armah made contact with him and flew out to meet him.
Kwei-Armah told The Voice:
“When you hear Mitchell sing he is incredible. Close your eyes and your hear Bob.”
Marley’s wife Rita will be played by Alexia Khadime whose West End roles include Nabulungi in The Book of Mormon, Eponine in Les Miserables and Nala in The Lion King.
Cat Simmons, who starred in Sweet Charity at the Manchester Royal Exchange, will play Bob’s lover Cindy Breakspeare, and Eric Kofi Abrefa, of Channel 4’s Humans, will play his closest friend Pablo.
While Newtion Matthews of The Frontline and Shakespeare’s Globe, will play Bunny Wailer, alongside Jacade Simpson, of The Scottsboro Boys, West End, will play Peter Tosh.
Birmingham-born Thomas Vernal, a recent graduate from The Arden School of Theatre will play Claudie Massop, while Delroy Brown, also from Birmingham, will play Bob’s manager Don Taylor.
When asked about his favourite Bob Marley son, Kwei-Armah, replied:
“Redemption Song, but I’m going to conflate that answer and add Zimbabwe and Running Away and I think probably the one that just tips it is So Much Trouble in the World. That was four – but hey!”
One Love: The Bob Marley Musical will be staged at Birmingham Repertory Theatre, Centenary Square, Broad Street, between Friday 10th March and Saturday 8th April. For tickets click here.
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