Get up, Stand up: now Marley the musical heads for West End

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The Independent Culture

In life, he championed the poor and sang on behalf of the powerless. Now, 23 years after his death, the legacy of Bob Marley is to again inspire the masses - as a West End musical.

In life, he championed the poor and sang on behalf of the powerless. Now, 23 years after his death, the legacy of Bob Marley is to again inspire the masses - as a West End musical.

The songs of the Jamaican icon will form the basis for reggae's theatrical debut after his widow and record company struck a deal with the company behind the current West End blockbuster The Producers. The move means that Marley's name will be added to the burgeoning list of musical heroes whose politically aware work has been recycled in the search for abox office hit in London's £90m musical market.

It was announced last week that the melancholic oeuvre of Morrissey, the professionally glum frontman of the Smiths, will form the basis for a stage production next July. A similar production based on the work of Jacques Brel won popular acclaim.

The productions follow a successful pattern of pop-based musicals ranging from the Abba-based Mamma Mia to We Will Rock You (Queen), Our House (Madness) and Tonight's the Night (Rod Stewart).

But the addition of Marley to the roll-call of West End entertainment caused consternation among his friends about the portrayal of a man who by the time he died of cancer aged 36 had fathered 12 children, eight of them by women other than his wife.

Dennis Morris, who knew Marley at the height of his creative powers in the mid-Seventies and has written a biography, A Rebel Life, said: "I'm not sure what Bob would make of it. He would probably like it if he could get involved but he would only be happy if it focused on his ideas.

"He touched a lot of hearts and changed a lot of minds. But it depends on the aspect of his life they concentrate on - are we going to get Bob the great lover or Bob the ideologue?"

David Ian, the head of the theatrical division of the American entertainment giant Clear Channel, who signed the Marley lyrics deal, said that neither writers nor storyline have yet been found for the musical, planned for 2006.

There were no details yesterday of the cost of the deal to buy the rights from Rita Marley and Chris Blackwell, the founder of Island Records, which signed Marley in 1971.

The agreement gives Mr Ian access to some of the singer's greatest hits, including "I Shot the Sheriff", "No Woman, No Cry", "Exodus" and "Get Up, Stand Up". But the West End producer insisted that the translation of reggae from the Kingston ghetto where Marley grew up to a central London theatre would be successful and respectful of his legacy. He said the script would be approved by Marley's family.

"As far as I'm aware there has not been a reggae musical, despite it being such a popular form of music," he said. "Marley is an icon around the world and his lyrics and ideas lend themselves to a musical. It is very early days but I don't anticipate it being biographical."

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