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A CurtainUp D Review
"People don't listen to politics, people listen to music."— Bob Marley to his Jamaican friends.
Mitchell Brunings (Photo by Richard Anderson)
The lobby of Baltimore's Center Stage where the musical Marley is playing is covered with sand. There's a (plastic) palm tree in the corner and a DJ spinning reggae discs. Actors dance enthusiastically with patrons and with each other. The mood is joyful.

Bob Marley, for those who don't know or can't remember, was a singing sensation in the 1970's, while his native Jamaica was struggling with street warfare and highly-charged politics. The timing of the show is ironic as it opened at just about the same time as the rioting in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Grey.

Marley and his music went global and for good reason. Many artists, including Eric Clapton, have covered his songs but never with quite the same passion or accent. Marley, who died in 1981 at 36 from cancer, was unique and a jukebox musical about his life, his Rastafarian faith, and the political hothouse that was Jamaica in the 1970's should be a winner.

The show opens with Marley (Mitchell Brunings) and Stevie Wonder (Mykal Kilgore) singing "I Shot the Sheriff," a number that is probably familiar and most definitely fun. This is followed b 24 more songs including such reggae classics as "No Woman, No Cry," "Redemption Song" and Marley's signature "Revolution." The mixture of R&B, jazz, calypso, and African rhythms is exciting but it is the dancing that shows the intensity and stamina of this high energy cast.

Kenny Seymour and Jason Michael Webb are responsible for the arrangements and orchestrations. Nine on-stage musicians deliver the goods. With knees almost as high as their hearts and bodies that appear to be made of malleable tissue without bones, the ensemble performs Germaul Barnes's hip hop-like choreography magnificently. By the end of the second act, the audience too is on its feet moving to the beat.

Mitchell Brunings who plays Marley is a singer and guitarist but he is not an actor. His voice is well suited to Marley's songs and his limbs pump up and down reggae style. When not working on his music, womanizing and siring babies, he enjoyed playing soccer anywhere — on the street, even in a recording studio.

Marley's other great hobby was weed, u biquitous among his musicians. But he was serious and felt deeply about being a Rastafarian. He also felt a moral responsibility to bring peace through his music to the warring gangs of Kingston, Jamaica and the politicians they supported. He said "I do thisfor Jamaica."

Center Stage's Artistic Director is credited with writing and directing Marley. It is not his fault that much of the exposition is lost on the audience. The Jamaican patois, which is lyrical and has its own vocabulary, takes some getting used to. Surtitles appear on Neil Patel's scenery and rear screen projections only intermittently; their use from beginning to end would be enormously helpful. Fortunately, the program includes a glossary: Jah means God. Gong, boss or chief. Babylon, capitalism. Zion, the promised land of Ethiopia, home of Haile Selassie, whom Rastafarians believed was the new Messiah, descended from King Solomon.

About half of the cast are professional actors but not necessarily experienced with handling their lines or their mikes. Sound Designer Shane Rettig lets them shout much of the time but the increased volume deters from comprehension of the words. Nothing deters comprehension of the sometimes suggestive dancing.

By the end of an enjoyable evening, the audience happily gets up and dances in the balcony, in the aisles, even on stage. In spite of its flaws, Marley is a good time. Smiles dominate from entering the lobby to leaving the theater.

Music and Lyrics by Bob Marley
Book by Kwame Kwei-Armah
Directed by Kwame Kwei-Armah
Music Supervisor, Kenny Seymour
Music Director, Jason Michael Webb
Choreographer, Germaul Barnes
Cast: Kena Anae (musician); Mitchell Brunings (Bob Marley); Luke Forbes (Tek Life); Don Guillory (Don Taylor); John Patrick Hayden (Chris Blackwell); Ketanya Jati Henderson (Diane Jobson); David Heron (Tony Welsh); Jonathan Hooks (musician); Crystal Joy (Judy Mowatt); Mykal Kilgore (Stevie Wonder); Michael Luwoye (Peter Tosh);John-Andrew Morrison (Claudie Massop); Ano Okera (Don Letts); Howard W. Overshown (Michael Manley); Shayne Powell (Malakai); Michael Rogers (Rasta Elder); Saycon Sengbloh (Rita Marley); Jaime Lincoln Smith (Neville Garrick); Damian Thompson (Bunny Wailer); Michaela Waters (Cindy Breakspeare); Susan Kelechi Watson (Marcia Griffiths.)
Ensemble: Christopher Dews, Tracey Farrar, Gary-Kayi Fletcher, Victoria Harper, Bill Hurlbut, Kyle A. Jackson; Jeff Kirman III, Mawk, Allison McLean, Marili Mejias, Olu Butterfly Woods.
Scenic Designer, Neil Patel
Lighting Designer, Michelle Habeck
Sound Designer, Shane Rettig
Dramaturg, Oskar Eustis

Center Stage, 700 North Calvert Street, Baltimore, Md;; May 7 to June 14, 2015. Tickets are $19 to $69; 410-3323-0033; Running time two and a half hours with one 15-minute intermission.

Review by Susan Davidson based on May 27, 2015 performance.
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