Fresh from finishing a powerhouse performance in Yasmin Joseph's J'Ouvert in the West End, Gabrielle Brooks is about to face an exciting new challenge, playing the iconic Rita Marley in new musical Get Up, Stand Up!, set to premiere in the West End from 1 October.
Delayed by the pandemic, Brooks is finally able to openly discuss taking on the part: "I've known about this for a long, long time – it's been very hush hush and this has felt like a bit of a genie in a bottle: now we're ready to release the magic."
Aside from J'Ouvert, Brooks has wowed in Regent's Park's A Midsummer Night's Dream, Katori Hall's Our Lady of Kibeho and taken on the lead role in Sheffield's production of The Wizard of Oz. But this marks Brooks' first time playing a real-life, living person, the performer explains over Zoom: "There's a certain responsibility that comes with it. It all starts with respect: I respect her story and respect her as a woman and a Black woman, considering everything she continues to do for the community. She's also spent her life mission continuing and shaping Bob Marley's legacy."
What can audiences expect? "Everything's up in the air at the moment which is exciting. You get to see the beginning of their love story, the infidelities, life choices and the strong couple they become. There are so many poignant moments – not simply because they're perfect to sink your teeth into as an actor, but also, as I've discovered from reading her book, because they are so important to her as an individual."
Opening at the Lyric Theatre, Brooks is revelling in the opportunity to sing some of the most revered songs in music history: "That's something I have to get out of my head. I find it easier to play Rita rather than singing the songs that are so close to so many hearts. But because we're servicing the story so closely, I don't have to stress as much about it being "Bob Marley"'s version – it will be my version through the character of Rita."
There's also an untapped history Brooks can't wait to explore: "The most common misconception is that Rita was somehow trapped. But looking at the themes and ideas of Rastafarianism as well as her relationship, you can tell that she respects and understands her position. She also knows that without her, Bob wouldn't be the man that he is. That makes it so much more interesting for me: playing a submissive wife would have been very boring."
Audiences should expect shocks, and certainly a few visceral moments: "Bob did have a trying life. He had a lot of heart-ache, trials and tribulations, from being a small child right to the day he died."
But the show's presence also means so much more than the arrival of a new musical: "What's exciting is that there's a shift, just because this is being staged. Culturally, it means so much for Black people and people from the Caribbean, it feels that theatre is changing in a way that feels more inclusive and special. We are making big changes – I can't wait for everyone to feel held by this show."
Tickets for the show are on sale below.