INTERVIEW: MICHAEL DUKE (Get Up, Stand Up! The Bob Marley Musical)

Interview

London-based actor and singer Michael Duke answers our questions about playing Bob Marley in the Olivier Award-winning musical Get Up, Stand Up! at the Lyric Theatre in London’s West End.

– You are playing Bob Marley… how does it feel to be stepping out on stage and playing this role, live on stage, to a London audience?

It feels great. I think that there’s something quite specific about it being a London audience. I mean, in this country, anyway, there’s a massive Caribbean culture, and it feels – I feel a great honour to be able to represent it. A lot of people who come to see the show, as well, yes, they know Bob Marley’s music, but not necessarily the culture and history and everything surrounding it, so again, for me it’s an honour to tell these stories and educate people, as well. It’s great.

– How do audiences for Get Up, Stand Up! compare to other audiences you’ve performed to?

Completely different. In our theatre the sound is incredibly loud, which you’re not going to get in many theatre productions. There’s a lot of bass, and the audience seem to engage with the piece a lot more vocally, which I think can be great, to an extent, because it’s very Caribbean, and I love that.

– Bob Marley died in 1981, over forty years ago now. Why this story, and why now?

I think this story could have been told ten years ago, and it could be told in ten years time, because I don’t think that the story or the culture has been celebrated nearly enough as it should be. For an audience nowadays, what we read in the news and what we see at the moment reflects a lot of the things that happened back then. As long as these themes and these issues still exist, the show will always be relevant.

– Some people seem to have some kind of snobbery about so-called “jukebox” musicals. What’s your take?

When the story is great, I love them. Because I think for a show like ours, you could take away the songs and it would still be a great story. But then you add the songs back in and it becomes even better.

– Has anything surprised you about performing this role? And do audiences come away surprised by anything?

People only really know Bob Marley’s music, and his individuality is possibly overshadowed by the Rastafarian image. But, like everyone else, he was a person, and so in Get Up, Stand Up!, you get a sense of his human nature.

Playing at the Lyric Theatre until 8 January 2023.

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RE:IMAGINING MUSICALS | London, V&A Museum

Recommended

A new free musical theatre exhibition has been announced at London’s V&A Museum from 15 October 2022, featuring previously unseen items from their theatre and performance collections.

Re:Imagining Musicals will celebrate some of our best-loved musicals, from Miss Saigon to My Fair Lady, and Six the Musical to Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, and will explore their cultural significance.

The museum said: “Re:Imagining Musicals will explore how musicals have been adapted, revived, and retold for new audiences and reimagined against cultural and historical contexts.”

Considering how extensive the V&A’s collection of modern and ancient theatre artefacts is already, this is set to be a fantastic opportunity for all theatre lovers. It’s definitely worth a visit to the V&A before October 15, too, to check out the current free exhibition, including costumes from War Horse and The Lion King, and set design models from London productions throughout the decades.

Re:Imagining Musicals opens at the V&A Museum in South Kensington on 15 October.

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INTERVIEW: @fantomedelopera

Interview

Twitter account @fantomedelopera tweets all about Gaston Leroux’s Le Fantôme de l’Opéra / The Phantom of the Opera, haunting the Palais Garnier since its 1909 serialization, and its many adaptations.

→ Tell us about your Twitter account, @fantomedelopera.

It was set up to be a kind of news service for anyone interested in the latest developments in the Phantom of the Opera world. But there’s a general focus on the novel and the 1925 film, as those are two personal favourites.

→ In your opinion, what has made Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1986 musical adaptation such a worldwide success?

It’s a phenomenal score, and the alchemy of the original production is hard to beat. Also, the story itself naturally lends itself to a theatrical setting, being of and about the theatre.

→ Recently, there have been some quite drastic changes to the production in London’s West End. Can you tell us more about that?

Yes, the producers have halved the orchestra, from twenty-seven down to fourteen, and veterans of the show have been unceremoniously fired.

Designer Maria Björnson’s opulent proscenium has been dismantled, with the central descending Angel – her favorite setpiece – removed altogether. Even the iconic boat scene has been impacted, with the candelabra no longer moving. The lighting is now far brighter and more saturated, too, and the Phantom no longer stalks the catwalk above the stage.

Lloyd Webber’s bizarre insistence that the 2021 version is “substantially identical” to the original, and remains director Hal Prince’s production “in its entirety”, has caused confusion amongst audiences who were promised an “enhanced” show. Prince, who died in July 2019, opposed changes to the production. The so-called “brilliant original” is no more in Britain. Some minor restaging aside, however, it can still be seen on Broadway and in Japan.

→ What’s the future for Gaston Leroux’s story? Do you think the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical will ever close?

I don’t think the Broadway production will outlast the end of this decade. France has recently played host to two straight-play adaptations. Several TV and film adaptations are planned, including a movie musical produced by John Legend, set in modern-day New Orleans. Every year a new graphic novel or computer game based on the Phantom of the Opera is released. Follow me on Twitter; I’ll keep you posted!

Follow @fantomedelopera on Twitter.

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