Writing on a subject on which you are intimately acquainted can sometimes be a blessing or a curse; the details and richness of experience are bound to come through, but the risk is that comes at the expense of being entertaining. Grant Black checked himself into rehab thirty years ago, and what he witnessed there has stayed with him so vividly that, along with Murray Lachlan Young, he has penned the music and lyrics to Rehab The Musical. With a book by Elliot Davis, this eye-opening new musical is now playing at the Playground Theatre.
Gary Lloyd directs a first rate cast, and that’s just one of the things Rehab The Musical has going for it. Elliot Davis’ story is one that’s easy to follow, but doesn’t shirk away from the complexities of the characters that we meet.
Set in 1999, just before the turn of the millennium, Rehab The Musical centres on a musical superstar named Kid Pop, think Harry Styles in baggy jeans. Caught by the paparazzi snorting cocaine, he’s ordered by the court to spend sixty days in rehab, and along the way discovers that it might be the inhabitants of The Glade, rather than the institution itself, that are his salvation.
He meets an unlikely group of people, all brought together by their respective addictions, from overeating to drugs and alcohol, human vices are revealed in often surprising fashion. Add in the devious and corrupt Malcom Stone (Keith Allen) and his no-nonsense assistant, Beth (Jodie Steele) and the scene is set.
It’s a surprisingly heart-warming tale, as we watch the bad boy of the music industry face his demons, and begin to show empathy and understanding for these new people who occupy his life. The introduction of Lucy, who may not be everything that she seems, provides a romantic angle for the musical to explore.
Much of the story works thanks to an outstanding performance from Jonny Labey, who makes the role of Kid Pop completely believable, from deep rock vocals to the nuances that emerge from a troubled past. The plot does suffer due to some pacing issues, and too often we’re really getting into a scene only for it to abruptly move on.
The same can be said for the songs, with a couple exceptions (the opening number, ‘Wanker’, being one) there are some terrific musical numbers here, but the audience are left desperately crying out for more. Take ‘Two Broken People’, a fantastic duet that ends far too soon, and is only briefly reprised in the second act.
Marion Campbell in the role of Martha begins a song called ‘Museum of Loss’, it’s the first solo Campbell has had, and the audience visibly sit up and pay attention, because there are some seriously powerful vocals here, but we’re to be disappointed as the song is handed off to another character.
Now, in fairness we’re not disappointed for long, because it’s Gloria Onitiri, in the role of Lucy, who takes over. Onitiri gives the standout performance of the night, and it’s probably worth buying a ticket just to witness this incredible performer in action.
It won’t come as a surprise that there are some heavy subjects tackled here, and Rehab The Musical is at it’s best when it is sensitively, but unashamedly, addressing them. Where it struggles is finding the right balance between the serious topics and the comedy, veering wildly between the two and appearing a bit chaotic in the process.
Rehab The Musical has great potential; brilliantly drawn characters and a (mostly) wonderful score make it a hugely enjoyable evening, and the stellar cast only adds to its appeal. A little work to iron out the kinks, and it could easily be the next big cult musical.
Rehab The Musical is at The Playground Theatre until 17th September 2022