Rehab The Musical ★★★★★

Musicals have featured drugs and addiction before – Rent, The Wild Party, The Life to name a few – but rarely have we made it as far as rehab. Until the world premiere of (the conveniently titled) Rehab The Musical.

It is a time when cocaine is plentiful and the tabloids are deeper in the gutter than they’ve ever been. Welcome to 1999! Kid Pop, the reigning bad boy of the music business, finds himself in court after being papped snorting coke after a gig. Given the choice of jail time or 60 days of rehab, the pop star opts for the latter as a seeming no-brainer and heads to The Glade Rehab Centre.

On arrival, he finds all human life is there: an ex-Bond girl with a drink and drugs problem, another resident is an overeater and gambler, a third is addicted to tanning. Naturally his initial response is that his vices don’t control him, glibly joking that he “did say no to drugs but they wouldn’t listen”. 

All photos by Mark Senior

Enter the show’s antagonist. Situated at the grubbier end of show business, Malcolm Stone is a ruthless, immoral publicist very much in the Max Clifford mould. Whilst delighted to get his client Kid Pop media attention, a 60-day hiatus is not ideal for keeping on the tabloid front pages. With his equal-callous assistant Beth, a plan is hatched to send a mole into the rehab facility to get the inside story of Kid’s rehab and of course all those juicy sellable pictures.

The book for Rehab The Musical by Oscar-nominated musical-script writer Elliot Davies has crafted a story with an engaging soap-opera feel and larger-than-life characters. There’s nothing that you can’t see coming from the first song and yet, somehow it completely works. Partly because it draws upon music and lyricist Grant Black’s personal experiences of rehab, there’s a surprising heart and optimism to this new musical. Twenty years in bringing the show to stage, if anything this darkly-comic show is unapologetically emotional and deeply compassionate in the belief that wrong turns can always be repaired. 

Rehab The Musical has two exceptional things going for it. The first is a cast who are about as good as it gets.  Playing a pop star on stage is something of a poison chalice: the cringe potential is often high. However, Rehab‘s stunning leading man Jonny Labey imbues his Kid Pop with a completely convincing swagger, arrogance and narcissism. With good looks and hypnotic moves, Labey channels a charismatic mix of Robbie Williams and Justin Timberlake. He traverses the journey as a wanker (as the opening song hilariously describes) to the rehabilitated Neil Wiggins (Kid Pop’s real name) with genuine nuance and infuses his scenes with an authentic emotion. He is outstanding.

Keith Allen plays the scheming, unethical publicist with an undisguised vitriol of a man with grudge. Every celebrity gravel-sniffing note (a bold and hilarious joke) is played to full effect, rendering Malcolm Stone a devilishly louche villain.  Gloria Onitiri as dancer / stripper turned Malcolm Stone’s spy in the rehab centre delivers the raw conflict that her character faces with subtlety and an empathy that impels audiences to look beyond the surface.

Jodie Steele brings a suitable calculating chill as Malcolm’s cold-as-ice assistant and yet despite her impressive venom as Beth, she manages to impart an inner life where there is a conflict going on within the character. Annabel Giles and John Barr bring a dignity and humour to their roles as residents of The Glade. As Jane Killy and Barry Bronze, they bring a likeability and a compassion to the human face of addiction. Special mention must go to Phil Sealey with the rather trickier role of Phil Newman. Without revealing his character’s narrative arc, he brings a touching, twinkly-eyed vulnerability to the part – making sure we are always laughing with the character and never at. 

The second winning ingredient of Rehab The Musical is that every song is superb. From the laugh-out-loud raucous Wanker to the soulful Through His Eyes to the divine harmonies of Gloria and Jonny on the emotional Two Broken People, this is a new musical that has your ear from the off. Many may have questioned Keith Allen – the voice of 1998 Football anthem Vindaloo – in a musical but he ably talks-raps-sings through the castanet-laden tango Obsession and the percussive Help You Help Yourself in a way that suits such an unharmonious character.

Musically Grant Black and Murray Lachlan Young refuse to conform to the accepted parameters of a musical theatre score. It’s quite the feat how the deliciously decadent Everyone’s Taking Cocaine belongs in the same musical as The Cheese Song, a hilariously idiosyncratic homage…cheese. And yet, in this warm-hearted, rule-breaking show, it works. 

And frankly if there is a song as strong as Museum Of Loss in any new musical this year, we haven’t heard it. Gloria Onitiri gives her last sinew to this glorious torch song. She is Billie Holliday. She is Janis Joplin. She is Tina Turner. Actually, she is a star. 

This short and pretty much sold-out run at The Playground Theatre surely must be the warm-up to a bigger West End run. As musical theatre goes, it doesn’t get more joyous or life-affirming than Rehab The Musical. 

They tried to make us go to Rehab The Musical and we said Yes, Yes, Yes – an easy ★ (5 stars) from The Recs

Rehab The Musical

Rehab the Musical runs at The Playground until 17 September, 2022

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