“Brooks practically steals the show with her soul-stirring “No Woman, No Cry”.
There’s a backline of oversized speakers, on which the cast and musicians sway to the beat while Bob Marley bounces downstage to take the microphone. Over the vamping, pulsating music, Marley introduces the cast members, inviting applause for each name check. We are definitely in gig territory here – not one of the oldest, most elaborate West End theatres. A sensation reinforced by the stripped back narrative that follows. The music is key. But like with Marley himself, it serves the purpose of getting the message across in ways that mere words cannot achieve.
David Albury bears a striking resemblance, physically and vocally. He is the alternate Bob Marley, but the role seems to have been written for him alone as he takes us on the journey of one of the most popular, yet most misunderstood, musicians in modern culture. Marley has achieved immortality, but some argue that his image is commercialised and diluted. “Get Up Stand Up!” gives us a glimpse of the real deal. The ghetto kid who believed in freedom. And fought for it. The convert to Rastafari. The kid sent away by his mother to Kingston for a better life. The ambassador of love, loss and redemption. The victim of an assassination attempt who headlined the ‘One Love’ Peace Concert in 1978, receiving the United Nations Peace Medal of the Third World. The cancer victim. But we also catch sight of the misogyny, the carelessness and self-absorption that affected those closest to him – namely his wife, Rita (Gabrielle Brooks), and long-term girlfriend, Cindy Breakspeare (Shanay Holmes).
The most revealing and poignant moments of the evening are provided by Brooks and Holmes. Hearing Marley’s words resonate from these two formidable women’s voices adds layers of compassion, tenderness, and bitterness. Brooks practically steals the show with her soul-stirring “No Woman, No Cry”.
Marley’s somewhat questionable attitude towards women is certainly thrown into the spotlight, and while writer Lee Hall tries to mitigate by highlighting Marley’s ‘marriage to the band’, we never really get a sense of what makes him tick. As mentioned, we do only get the broad outlines. The dialogue between the numbers does tend to assume we know so much already. But with such a wealth of material that’s probably a necessity, and it does spur us on to do our own homework. In the meantime, we can relish in the sheer energy of Clint Dyer’s production. It is a jukebox musical that never feels like one. Marley’s songs are the soundtrack to his life, so obviously make the perfect soundtrack to this sweeping panoramic vision of a visionary artist. Dyer races through the story, but occasionally stops the track to zoom in and focus on particular moments. Marley watches his younger self (brilliantly played by Maxwell Cole) leave the family home, while later on the young Marley stands by to witness his older self receive his cancer diagnosis.
These moments of unconventionality never detract from the ‘concert’ feel of the show. And, after all, it is the songs that tell the story. Shelley Maxwell’s choreography is stunning but, with an eye on a West End audience, occasionally mismatched to the material. But the roots are still there, just as Marley stayed true to his own roots even when Chris Blackwell of Island Records (Henry Faber) sensed a need to reach out to the predominantly white, British audience in the 1970s.
The set list is comprehensive, including lesser known, more lyrically challenging numbers along with the signature tunes we know and love. As the evening slows down to a plaintively acoustic “Redemption Song” we see the intoxicating mix of the gentle and the explosive that coexisted within Marley’s spirit. And his spirit is in full attendance throughout the night. The crowd can’t fail to follow the command of “Get Up Stand Up” during the rousing encore.
“The ingredients, the writing, the musicality and the star-studded cast promise something to be respected and admired. But there is a definite sense of disappointment.”
‘Disenchanted’ (dɪsɪnˈtʃɑːntɪd/): disappointed by someone or something previously respected or admired; disillusioned. Synonyms include; let down, fed up, cynical, disabused. There is no question as to who the ‘someone or something’ singled out in Dennis T. Giacino’s “Disenchanted! A New Musical Comedy” is, and its subversive twist on the Disney fairy tale marketing machine, if not new, is a delight to watch. The swipes at the established misogynism, racism and many other ‘isms’ inbuilt into the portrayal of our favourite princesses are much needed, and Giacino has dressed them in pastiche melodies and some ingeniously clever and witty lyrics. It could do with perhaps more subtlety and less preachiness and bitterness, but the energy and gung-ho feistiness of all involved will appeal to all genders and persuasions.
That’s the good news. Unfortunately, some artistic decisions for this current digital revival make for awkward viewing, for the wrong reasons. ‘Digital’ is the key word. This is inherently a musical that needs to be witnessed live, in the flesh, a few sheets to the wind, in like-minded company. We, the audience, are being heckled and cajoled by these comic geniuses and we should be simultaneously shamed and charmed. It is cabaret at its finest. We should be ‘loving it!’. But, rather than challenging preconceptions, this version challenges our patience.
In the original Off-Broadway run in 2014 there is a wonderful moment midway through – a gorgeous swipe at the Disney franchise. The ‘Princess who Kissed the Frog’ sings “Why’d it take ‘em so long to give a sister a song… ‘cause I am that storybook princess that’s fin’lly gone black”. Giacino’s point is that it wasn’t until 2009 when, for the first time in animation history, the fairest of them all was black. Director Tom Jackson Greaves’ decision to introduce such diversity into the casting of ‘Disenchanted’ way before this moment lets the joke fall somewhat flat.
Overall, the irreverence of the material is dampened by the exaggerated gaiety of the cast. And the hue-changing green screen backdrop distracts instead of being a neutral backdrop to the colourful characters. It takes an effort not to be snagged by these grating hurdles, but for those who make the effort to overcome them there is some reward. There is a very fine line up of performers indeed. Led by Jodie Steele’s ‘Snow White’ and aided by side kicks Allie Daniel (Sleeping Beauty) and Sophie Isaacs (Cinderella) we are guided through a series of vignettes in which various princesses are summoned to sing their way through their dissatisfactions and parody the princess culture. Highlights include Grace Mouat’s ‘Pocahontas’ (a character hitherto homogenised by the entertainment industry willing to distort her true Native-American story purely to sell cinema tickets) who sardonically sings that she “looks like a porn star”. Jenny O’Leary, as ‘Rapunzel’, brilliantly bemoans the total absence of royalties she receives from the global merchandising of her name in a Kurt Weill inspired number. And Courtney Bowman’s scathing but catchy diatribe against Middle Eastern misogyny is inspired.
There is a tenuous thread running through the musical numbers, reinforced by the repeated #princesscomplex hashtag. The messages are clear, but even now becoming a bit dated; and the balance between spite and humour aren’t always weighed up fully. Its intended audience is clear too, but the delivery is confused and awkward, like the shady, disenchanted state of limbo an adolescent might feel: too old for the youth club but too young for the pub.
‘Disenchanted’ (dɪsɪnˈtʃɑːntɪd/): it lives up to its definition. The ingredients, the writing, the musicality and the star-studded cast promise something to be respected and admired. But there is a definite sense of disappointment.