Michael Duke talks ‘Get Up, Stand Up’: “Freedom drove Bob Marley as a human and an artist”

Every night, London’s Lyric Theatre is transformed into a world of hate and injustice won over by a message of peace and love – shouted through Jamaican reggae hearts. Though long (and too early) gone, Bob Marley’s pressence still stands strongly in the West End thanks to Get Up, Stand Up, the musical depicting the amazing events that built up his resilient life. Guillermo Názara chats with Michael Duke, the man in charge of bringing out this symbol’s passion and soul on the stage, to learn more what’s behind playing a character that changed the face of music and history for good.

How does it feel to play probably the biggest icon in reggae music History?

It’s great! I love it. It’s an honour to play it, and it’s humbling and I’m very grateful to be given the opportunity to play the role of such a huge icon.

A very short life lived through such intensity and encapsulated in a two hour show. Is it daunting to assume the responsibility of leading such a roller coaster onstage every night?

No. It’s a challenge but it’s not daunting at all, I feel confident in the work I’ve done in terms of research and rehearsing, so that I feel comfortable and able to lead the cast and do the show every night.

As an actor, how challenging has it been to portray someone so unique (in all senses) as Bob Marley?

Yeah, it’s very challenging because people already know him very well in terms of the way he spoke, the way he sang, his music and everything. It’s all out there, so people have an image of what they expect. But it’s a great challenge, and what I try to do is just make sure I bring myself to the role as much  as possible. I’m not impersonating, I’m just portraying a version of him, so that relieves a lot of any pressure that comes with playing someone as iconic as him.

Has it been difficult to reproduce his singing style too? How demanding is it vocally?

It’s quite demanding for me. So, I have regular singing lessons to make sure that my voice is in great shape. There’s a lot of singing, and there’s a lot of talking, and I don’t get a lot of time off stage. When I started rehearsing and learning the songs, I did try to input some characterisation and make sure that the sound was similar to his, but what I wanted to do was have that as my foundation, but then just work towards finding a sound that was right for me and my voice, so I hope that that blend is good enough.

As you said, you’re playing a real person so many viewers know so well. How do you make the character your own without falling into an impersonation?

I bring my own sound, my own voice and my own essence to the character. So I am me, portraying someone else. I’m not trying to be someone else. 

What is to you the real essence of Bob Marley?

I think the real essence of Bob Marley is freedom. It seems to me to be the thing that drove him in his life as a human and as an artist. 

As a performer, has playing this character taught you anything (either technically or artistically)?

Not necessarily this character, but I think doing this role has encouraged me to really work on my skills a lot more, vocally and my acting skills, everything. I’ve grown as an actor because of the demands of the show.

After getting to know Bob Marley so well upon many months as him, what do you think you’ve learned from him some other people may not know?

I think like a lot of us, what I discovered was that he spent a lot of time hanging around with a lot of gangsters, which I didn’t really know much about before. But I think that speaks a lot about the kind of person that he was, actually. He was able to welcome in and share his environment with different kinds of people.

What would you tell him should you have the opportunity to be face to face with him?

I would love to talk about his view on the world today, in 2022. He was very opinionated and political back then, but where would he stand now? And how would he look at the current issues we face today?

Why should people go see ‘Get Up, Stand Up’?

Because it’s not like anything else in the theatre at the moment, so you’re going to get a unique experience. It is joyful, it is positive, it’s got a lot of heart and it’s great.

Get Up, Stand Up plays at the Lyric Theatre from Tuesday to Sunday. Tickets are available on the following link.

By Guillermo Názara

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