There’s a fabulous new musical in town at the Playground. Several years in the making, Rehab the Musical is written and composed by Grant Black (whose dad Don was in the house on press night – himself no slouch when it comes to crafting musicals) and performance poet Murray Lachlan Young.
With a cast of eleven firing on all cylinders, this tale of celebrity, corruption and cocaine takes the story of Kid Pop (a swaggering Jonny Labey), a singer at the peak of his fame, who gets busted for drugs after a paparazzi sting.
In a courtroom scene which sets the tone with the song “Wanker”, Pop is sent to do a 60-day stint in rehab at The Glade. He sees it as a “holiday”. His scheming PR, Malcolm Stone (a brilliantly louche Keith Allen), sees pound signs and twisted opportunities.
As Pop’s demons are tested through his stay, the devious devil who gets high through “a sniff of Cliff” enlists Lucy (Gloria Onitiri), a stripper struggling with addiction and personal problems, to keep him in the public gaze.
A rich and witty score blends quick laughs with torch ballads. There’s a lot of glorious choral work and some solo showcases – if Allen’s contributions are a bit Parklife in Michael Fabricant’s wig, it’s certainly entertaining; and Onitiri smashes it with her act 2 showstopper “Museum of Loss”.
As the resudents of rehab get to open up and kick away their addictions – Lucy’s deception becomes first catastrophic then cathartic. Barry (the ever-reliable John Barr), Phil (a touching turn from Phil Sealey) and Jane (a sex and news obsessed Annabel Giles) are all very good indeed.
In Jodie Steele’s Beth, assistant to the PR demon, we sense a good soul as obsessed and addicted as any in need of a stint of truth sharing in rehab. Her moment in the spotlight sizzles in “Die at 27 and You’ll Live Forever”, exploring the seedy fickleness of postmortem fame.
A set (by Andrew Exeter) dominated by a sign stating “one minute day hour at a time”, metal gates/cages and white/yellow fluorescent lights has the sense of being both imprisoning and freeing. Gary Lloyd’s direction and choreography is completely on point throughout.
While some moments are genuinely funny: “The Cheese Song” riffs on Monty Python while “Everyone’s Taking Cocaine” pokes fun at rich, drunken freeloaders, where Rehab the Musical really succeeds is in negotiating the tricky balancing act between parody and pathos.
A nod, too, to supporting players Andy Brady (Eric), Dawn Buckland (lovely as Phil’s wife), Marion Campbell (The Glade’s group facilitator), and Andrew Patrick-Walker (numerous roles), who all add something special to this production.
You can see Rehab the Musical at the Playground Theatre in Latimer Road until 17 September: purchase tickets here. Catch it before it goes big.
Image credit: Mark Senior