There is a lot of protest and love in his work, - Interview with Get Up, Stand Up! 's Michael Duke
After staring in productions such as The Inheritance (Noel Coward Theatre), Beautiful: The Carol King Musical (Aldwych Theatre), West Side Story (Manchester Royal Exchange) and Travels with my Aunt (Chichester Festival Theatre), actor Michael Duke is currently staring as part warrior, part rock star Bob Marley in Get Up, Stand Up! The Bob Marley Musical at the Lyric Theatre in London's glittering West End.
I had the opportunity to talk to Michael about what it is like to play such an iconic star in a musical that uses his famous music to tell his story, and what he loves most about being a part of the show.
How does it feel to portray such a well-known person such as Bob Marley?
It feels great. It’s exciting. I love it. I love, it’s definitely a challenge, because yeah, he is such an icon and loved by so many people. Doing the show, I’ve met a lot of people at stage door who have seen him in concert in real life. So, there is like a little bit of pressure to kind of do it justice, but I love the challenge yeah.
I see that you were the alternate Bob Marley before taking over the role full time. How was it to make that progression with the show?
It was great. I understood that it was going to be definitely more demanding doing it day in and day out, but I had to make, you know, a few lifestyle adjustments. And get a lot better sleep. But I felt, you know, good and you know well enough to do it as often as I am now.
A lot of people probably know Bob Marley’s songs, but possibly might not know his story. Do you think that it is important that ‘Get Up, Stand Up’ tells that story?
I think it is yeah. Because a lot of people know reggae music, a lot of people know Bob Marley’s music, but there is a lot of political resonance to it. There is a lot of protest and love in his work, and I think that it is important to show that and to get that narrative across as well as the, you know, sunny Jamaica, good times vibe.
Like you said, there is a lot of political messages in his music, and he used that music to spread those messages of unity and love and to share his views. Because of that, do you think that the show is an example of the power of music?
Absolutely, yeah. You can use, people use different mediums to get their political points across, and their passions across. And music is one of the most powerful art forms to do such things. You know, we can connect with music when we think about love and when we think about heartbreak and it is also a great resource to spread messages of whatever it is, be that political stuff and history and culture, yeah.
The show is a lot about his story, with his music as a backdrop, and it uses his music to tell his story.
Yeah, exactly yeah. We tell his story, and we use his music, and it is intertwined, and I think it is done quite well where it blends in with the story of the music. Within the show, we give some of the song’s different meanings, you know, just for the story.
And do you find that with the show, because so many people do know the music, that there’s quite an excited happy atmosphere, alongside that more serious story?
Yeah, absolutely, everyone always wants to sing along, which is nice, yeah
That goes into my next question. After such a long period of closure and of going back and forth with all of the restrictions, how does it feel to be able to perform this sort of show to a full house again?
It’s great, it feels really good. It feels like that is where the audience want to be as well you know. I mean, I feel like people are enjoying being out and coming to the theatre and just enjoying life where it was kind of difficult to do that for such a long time.
And do you have a favourite thing about being in the show or a favourite song to perform?
Once again, it’s the audiences. I love the audiences; I love the reactions that we get. I love sharing the story and the culture with fellow Caribbean people, you know, it gives them a lot of pride and joy seeing their stories told of stage, and that it quite important to me.
Do you think that it is important for theatre to be used to tell these real-life stories? Some people see these jukebox shows and think they’re just going to be a bit of fun, but you can tell some serious stories using popular music.
Yeah, absolutely. I think that, specially this one, the person that the story is being told about, that story is so pivotal in popular culture and political history. So even though it is a jukebox musical, it has so much relevance and so much importance, you know.
Yeah, because I suppose some of it can still be applied today, the political uprising and all that.
Standing up for what people believe in, the rights to protest and all of that. That is still relevant
Exactly, yeah, 100% yeah.
So, you said that your favourite thing is the audiences, and bringing the audience in. What is it like within the company, being able to share that story with the audience. Is there a pride in sharing that story?
Yeah, for a lot of people in the show, we wanted to do this show because it’s our history, you know. The majority of our cast is of Caribbean heritage, and mostly Jamaican heritage, so it is not often that we get the opportunity to do that, especially on the West End, you know.
To tell that true to life story with all the relevance it still has. That is the end of my questions, was there anything else that you wanted to add?
No, just come see us
Tickets for Get Up, Stand Up! The Bob Marley Musical are available here https://ticketing.getupstandupthemusical.com/tickets/series/LYGSU01M
Photos by Craig Sugden