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Marley the Musical comes to Baltimore at a Pivotal Moment

On May 7, Baltimore’s Center Stage will debut Marley, a world premiere musical based on the life and music of international icon Bob Marley. The performance, written and directed by Center Stage Artistic Director Kwame Kwei-Armah, focuses on a four-year period in the mid 1970s. After surviving an assassination attempt two days before he performed a free concert during the run-up to the hotly contested 1976 election in Jamaica, Marley left for London, where he spent nearly two years in self-imposed exile. Chronicling the events surrounding this earth-shaking moment, Marley tells the story of a man transformed into one of the 20th Century’s most important cultural figures.

Through an agreement with Blue Mountain Music and Tuff Gong Pictures, Marley includes 26 Bob Marley songs, including “No Woman, No Cry,” and “Waiting in Vain,” among others, and is the first ever stage production to include both the music and life of the reggae legend. “We are thrilled to be working both with Kwame and with Center Stage to bring part of our father’s story to life in a way that has never been done before,” Cedella Marley says. “When it comes to our father’s work and legacy, we have always been mindful in selecting the artists with whom we choose to collaborate. We couldn’t be more excited about the team that is assembled for this project.”




Director Kwei-Armah said Marley will not be a traditional jukebox musical, but rather a show “focusing on a really dynamic moment” in the singer’s life. To cast the lead of Bob Marley, Kwei-Armah said, “Whoever takes on this icon doesn’t have to look like him,” he said. “But he has to be able to generate his physical and spiritual and sexual energy in a way that will enthrall.” It seems he found his muse in Mitchell Brunings, who rocketed to international acclaim by singing Marley’s “Redemption Song” on the Dutch version of The Voice television show in 2013. Watch his moving performance here, which has more than 37 million views:

Born in the South American country of Surinam, Brunings is on sabbatical as a nurse at a psychiatric hospital in Holland. He was a reggae singer on the side who has been performing professionally since his appearance on Holland’s The View. “Bob Marley is a huge inspiration in my life and it’s an overwhelming honor to be playing the legend in a new musical,” Brunings said in a statement.  ”I am so excited to be working with Kwame and an amazing cast and group of musicians bringing the story of this pivotal moment in Marley’s life to the stage.”

While Mitchell Brunings may be new to the theater, his co-stars have built up quite the resume both on and off Broadway:

As Rita Marley: Saycon Sengbloh, (Broadway: “Motown” “Fela!,” “Hair,” “The Color Purple,” “Wicked,” “Aida”).

As Stevie Wonder: Mykal Kilgore (Broadway: “Motown,” “Hair.” National Tour: “The Book of Mormon”).

As Judy Mowatt: Crystal Joy (Broadway: “Motown,” and “Hair.” National Tour and Regional: “Legally Blonde,” “Memphis,” “The Wiz,” “Dreamgirls”).

As producer and filmmaker Don Letts: Ano Okera (National Tour: “Rent.”  Regional: “Dreamgirls,” “West Side Story”).

As Marley’s dance captain and as Diane Jobson: Khetanya Henderson (Regional: Cirque du Soleil’s “The Beatles/Love Show” in Las Vegas, “Hairspray,” “A Chorus Line,” “Legally Blonde.” Film: “Hairspray,” “Enchanted”).

As Peter Tosh from the Wailers: Michael Luwoye (Regional: “Tick, tick … BOOM!,” “Hairspray,”  “Guys and Dolls”).

As artist and Marley’s friend Neville Garrick: Jaime Lincoln Smith (Broadway: “Holler If Ya Hear Me.” Off-Broadway: “Ruined,” “Seed” and “Birthright.” Center Stage: “Gleam.”)

As backing singer Marcia Griffiths: Susan Kelechi Watson (Broadway: “A Naked Girl on the Appian Way.” TV: “Louie,” “The Following” and “The Blacklist”).

As Island Records founder Chris Blackwell: John Patrick Hayden (Broadway: “Tartuffe.” Regional: “Born Yesterday,” “Death of a Salesman,” “Other Desert Cities”).

As Jamaica Labour Party enforcer Tek Life: Luke Forbes (Off-Broadway: “The Merchant of Venice” with Al Pacino).

As Marley’s manager, Don Taylor: Don Guillory (Broadway: “Romeo and Juliet,” “Stick Fly”).

Jamaican Prime Minister Michael Manley: Howard W. Overshown (Broadway: “Julius Caesar.” Off-Broadway: “Richard III,” “Blue.” Center Stage: “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead”).

As People’s National Party enforcer Tony Welsh: David Heron (Off-Broadway: “Coriolanus: The African Warrior,” “Antony and Cleopatra”).

As Jamaica Labour Party enforcer Claudie Massop: John-Andrew Morrison (Off-Broadway: “The Tooth of Crime,” “The Blacks,” “Ain’t Supposed to Die a Natural Death”).

As Marley friend Malakai: Shayne Powell (Off-Broadway: “The Black That I Am”).

In addition to Kwei-Armah, the creative team includes Jason Webb (music director), Germaul Barnes (choreographer), Neil Patel (scenic designer), Esosa (costume designer) and Michelle Habeck (lighting designer).

In the midst of rehearsal for Marley, Baltimore was thrown into the national spotlight by the death of Freddie Gray, a young African American man who suffered fatal injuries while in police custody. As in Ferguson, protestors took to the streets to demand justice for Gray and other victims of police violence. In an effort to ease tensions in Baltimore and foster a sense of community, the cast of Marley staged a free concert of Bob Marley songs on May 2 at the epicenter of the Freddie Gray protests, Pennsylvania and North Avenues. From the cast’s statement: “Although the cast and crew’s focus is working on this production, it cannot be denied that Bob Marley’s message of redemption, love and revolution resonates very deeply right now, and the cast wants to share his songs with the community. Center Stage’s Community Programs and Education Department is organizing the concert as a way to offer healing to our community.” The concert was very well received: 

Kwei-Armah spoke about the timing of a musical about a man devoted to uplifting Black people premiering in Baltimore during the unrest: “The irony is sitting right on me, that we are doing a play about a hero calling for peace as his country [Jamaica] is falling apart, a man asking how do the oppressed raise their voices, how do the oppressed be heard. The seams are so aligned it’s incredible.”

The musical Marley, which runs from May 7 to June 14, will include music from Exodus, Kaya and Rastaman Vibration, all of which Marley wrote during the period examined in the play. It is the final production of Center Stage’s 2014-15 season.

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