The events that transpired in Baltimore recently really took a lot out of me. It left me speechless. Hurt and speechless. It was a hurt that silenced every bit of my voice, which is something that rarely happens. I haven’t had much to say about the uprising, the violence, the looting, the curfew, the brutality. Everywhere I looked I saw the end results of decades of systemic poverty, pain, violence, vicious racism and the politics of business-as-usual/maintaining status quo. So it is quite appropriate that I find my voice and break my silence here by talking about the current production at Center Stage – “Marley” – a night of theater dedicated to the legendary singer/songwriter/musician whose music fueled (and continues to fuel) revolutions both then and now.
Running from May 8th to June 14th, the production is directed by Center Stage’s artistic director Kwame-Kwei-Armah, and presents Robert Nesta Marley from 1972 until 1978 – depicting him signing with CBS Records, the attempt on his life (one of the few instances where an attempt on an entertainer’s life was considered an assassination attempt), his love of soccer and his devotion to his Rastafarian beliefs, his years in London in self-imposed exile from Jamaica, his infidelities, his cancer, and his return to his home for the One Love Peace Concert at National Stadium in Kingston where he very famously brought leaders of Jamaica’s rivaling political parties together onstage.
The production’s lead, Mitchell Brunings, is an excellent Marley. The entire production’s success hinges on the audience accepting the Marley he brings to the stage, and he is more than up to the challenge of bringing the icon to life.
His vocals are full of the searing passion, grit and energy necessary to make the audience believe his performance, and the resemblance to Marley physically is more than sufficient. Brunings was raised in The Netherlands and spent some time as a boxer, and before bringing his massive talent to Baltimore he was runner up on Holland’s “The Voice”. Check out his version of Marley’s classic “Redemption Song” here.
And very similarly to Marley, Brunings and the entire cast of “Marley” found themselves in the midst of great civil unrest and uprising in this city, just as Marley did in Jamaica. While the cast might have originally come to Baltimore to be a part of this production, they soon found themselves part of the city’s healing, performing a free concert on the corners of Pennsylvania Avenue and North Avenue the Saturday afternoon after the riots.
In Brunings the rest of the cast have a tremendously gifted and solid foundation on which they can build their performances and tell the story of Bob Marley at his most creative and influential. In addition to some of the best performances of Marley classics you will ever see/hear, the production gives details about the events impacting Marley during this period, both personal and political. This may be the most unexpected element of “Marley” — how much it delves into the politics of the period and its effect on Marley, how he was perceived by the public and those closest to him. For those who aren’t familiar with much about Marley beyond his music, I strongly recommend you get to the show early enough to thoroughly read the program before the show starts. It gives great information on Marley, on the political climate in Jamaica at the time and its significance in Marley’s life, the practice of Rastafarianism, and even on Jamaican patois. (The cast offers quite accurate and natural sounding patois and and vocal inflections in their performances, so be prepared to listen carefully.) Giving the “Marley” program a few minutes of attention before showtime will go a long way to enhancing your theatrical experience. In fact, you can check the program out here. (Also, a special shout out to the costume/hair/wig/makeup design teams for perfectly capturing the fashion and overall look of the early-mid seventies.)
Tickets are still available for “Marley” performances, and I highly recommend treating yourself to this night out. Center Stage has always offered affordable ticketing options, and “Marley” is no exception, with seats starting at $19. There are also “Dance Seats” available, and they are described by Center Stage this way: “…for just $25, you can now purchase Dance Seats in the mezzanine and feel free to dance along to the music (with members of the cast joining in!). These seats are not for the faint of heart! These backless, un-cushioned benches include two rows of four seats on either end of the Mezzanine.” There is also a “Meet The Actors” event on Friday May 15th at 8 p.m., and a “Stir It Up at Center Stage” event on Friday June 5th taking place at 10:30 that will include an afterparty with dancing, complimentary Jamaican food, wine and beer, and a performance from Rufus Roundtree & Da B’more Brass Factory.
Click here to get tickets, and enjoy the show!