The new musical “Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds,” written by the late reggae musician’s eldest daughter, Cedella, will open at the New Victory Theater in New York on Feb. 7, one day after what would have been his 69th birthday.
“This is going to be the best birthday ever for dad,” Cedella Marley said. “There will be a lot of children around celebrating.”
The musical is based on Cedella’s children’s book, “Three Little Birds,” which she wrote after realizing that her father’s song would calm her own three young children. “That was the song that could put them to bed at night and wake them up in the mornings,” she said. “My middle son was getting bullied at school. He would come home crazy sad and I would hum the song to him.”
The “Three Little Birds” musical originated in Washington, D.C., last year, and Cedella remembers bringing her three children to the opening night. “To see the little children in the audience singing along — I thought maybe they would know 1-2 songs, but they knew so many,” she said “I was like, wait a minute! They were singing ‘One love.’”
In addition, the musical includes the title song “Three Little Birds,” “Jamming,” “Roots Rock Reggae,” “I Shot the Sheriff,” “Is This Love” and many others. The show will play at the New Victory until Feb. 23.
Speakeasy talked with Cedella Marley about “Three Little Birds,” preserving Bob Marley’s legacy from oversaturation, and whether the Marley family will open a marijuana farm.
Your book “Three Little Birds” is being adapted into a musical using your father’s music. How did this come about?
I have three boys and that song is just one of our favorite songs, “Three Little Birds.” It just felt very natural to have it turn into a children’s book because it healed my child and my house every morning and evening. When were contacted by these guys in Washington, Michael Bobbitt and his company, they brought up [the idea to turn it into a show] and I was like, it sounds too good to be true. Just going through the whole process, watching them develop costumes and rehearsals. Going to Washington with my entire family was just awesome.
Did you expect it to transfer to New York?
Michael and I were saying we’d love this to tour, not just in America but the rest of the world. But when I left Washington, I thought that was it. I got a call from the New Victory Theater. I was like what, are you serious? It’s playing the day after dad’s birthday, which just made it. I have faith and I believe in a higher power and I just said wow, this is going to be the best birthday ever for dad. There will be a lot of children around celebrating.
Are there plans for “Three Little Birds” to transfer to Broadway?
Listen, I’m crossing my fingers and my toes. I would love that. That’s one of my dreams, to see dad’s music on Broadway. “Reggae on Broadway,” which is one of his songs too.
What do you think is the show’s message?
It’s really teaching our kids that no matter what their troubles or fears, there’s still a little bit of sunshine out there. It’s up to the parents and the village, the Bible will tell you. You have to surround yourself with good people so you can grow into great people. I think the lyrics, the music and performance will entertain everybody, young and old. I’m just honored we’re at the New Victory.
At some point, was there another Bob Marley musical in the works?
It’s been talked about. We’ve been having talks about the Bob Marley movie and we haven’t done it for 30-something years because you know when it’s right, and it has not been right yet. This just so happens to be the first one we actually did, and it was for kids using dad’s lyric and his music. I think that just goes to show how great his message is. It resonates with everyone no matter what age.
Are there other projects being planned related to your father and his work?
We have a lot of projects. We do sleep, but he keeps us very busy. We’re talking about doing some more documentaries, maybe a movie or two but not really on Bob Marley. Maybe taking an event from his life and turning that into a movie versus trying to find someone to play Bob Marley. I still can’t see it. I read so many scripts and talked to so many producers but I’m still like eh, can we take an event? Maybe the assassination event, maybe Zimbabwe, maybe his return to Jamaica after the assassination attempt? Because it’s going to be hard to get him right. It’s doable, but it’s going to be hard.
There is a restaurant, coffee and now a show associated with your dad. Is there a danger of over-commercializing him?
We’ve done the things that are very practical as far as T-shirts and merchandise…. We’re working on a “One Love” café and the coffee is really Marley coffee started by our brother, Rohan. Once it’s called Marley something, you can’t escape the association. But we have to remember daddy was in the music business and it’s a business. At the same time, we keep the integrity of the man separate from the integrity of the musician. It’s a fine line because I don’t think lots of people know daddy was a very smart businessman. He started his own record label, built his own studio, started his own distribution company where he was pressing records. He was very strict when it came to his business. He was the first person to print a Bob Marley T-shirt [laughs], let’s not get it twisted! He would wear his own T-shirt because that is the music business.
Going back to how we deal with the Marley marks, we do things that we have to do at times because if you don’t, you have 10 million other people that will do it. We’re trying to combat a lot of the bootlegging. Every single day I get 100 letters from the lawyers. “Infringer, infringer, infringer.” So you try and take care of all of them. As soon as you close one down you have 10 more that pop up. The laws are different in various parts of the world, and you spend a lot of time and money doing infringement work. But an easier way to deal with that is almost like you have to step into their place because there’s a need for it. If there wasn’t a need for that product, people would not be doing it. If we can do it in a more respectful manner, keep the integrity and message of our father, we’re always open to finding ways of making things a little bit better.
With marijuana now legal in Colorado, would your family somehow get involved commercially?
We’re looking to see how the marijuana stocks are going. It depends. We love farming so if we could have a farm where that’s what we grow, legally, then we might consider a farm. I am watching it. The lines, how the demand has grown so much they’re having to ration it. You have a smile on your face and you still hope people are using it for the right reasons. I just think when you’re growing marijuana, it’s supposed to be a healing herb. You have to do it in the right way. You don’t want all the chemicals, you want to do it as organically as possible. I think to have it grown by Marley farms, anywhere where it’s legal to do that, it’s something that definitely we would be looking into. It’s not so much opening a shop. I’m more concerned with what the people would be consuming. I see the blogs now and then and I know everything isn’t being grown as organically as possible. It’s like you’re getting something that’s healing that’s coated with chemicals. Are you getting the benefits or getting worse?
– Article originally written by Barbara Chai for the Wall Street Journal.