Jamaican reggae singer Bob Marley died in 1981 at 36 years old.
Next year, Center Stage will be collaborating with the Public Theater in New York in order to bring a musical, based on the icon, to Baltimore. It will simply be called Marley.
Kwame Kwei-Armah (Detroit ’67, Much Ado About Nothing) is set to direct Marley alongside Oskar Eustis, who will be the dramaturg for the show.
Kwei-Armah was introduced to Bob Marley’s music as a child, but it didn’t immediately speak to him:
“My eldest sister, from my father’s first marriage, came to live with us in London when she was 16 and I was about 12. I was the young sibling who was very annoying. She loved Bob Marley, so I refused to listen to Bob Marley at all. But when I was about 20, I started to listen to his work, his words and his melodies. He simply took my breath away. I felt he was articulating my innermost thoughts.”
The director was eventually inspired by the music of Bob Marley, and when the opportunity came along to work on a project honoring the late-great, he jumped on it.
“One could not escape what Bob meant to the black community, and how excited the white community was at this dreadlocked wild man,” Kwei-Armah said.
The director promises that Marley will not be a basic jukebox musical. Instead, the show will focus on a dramatic time in Bob Marley’s life.
Marley will be set between 1975 and 1978, with a lot of focus on an assassination attempt that targeted Marley in 1976. Audiences will see what it was like for Marley living in Jamaica and how he dealt with his London exile. The heart of the show will, of course, be his unforgettable music.
“We have maybe 20 songs, but I’ve tried to make them come out of what I perceive to be an integrity that Bob would demand,” Mr. Kwei-Armah said. “It’s not, ‘Here are some songs and how can I link them with some drama.’ There is an investigation into the man’s life, between him putting his life on the line and going into self-imposed exile for 18 months and while there, recording two of his biggest albums.”
Casting for Marley has not yet been announced, and Kwei-Armah intends to be very careful about choosing his main character.
“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.”
For the moment, Marley is only set to run in Baltimore, but Kwei-Armah is not ruling out the possibility of a tour if it does well.
“My job is to look at the here and now,” he said. “But if I can get it right, then we can construct it so it has the legs to travel.”
Marley will debut on May 6, 2015 and is set to run until June 14, 2015.
[Image courtesy of Do Androids Dance]