Review by Daz Gale
The world premiere of a brand new musical has checked in to the Playground Theatre in Latimer Road as Rehab The Musical settles in for a short stay, but is this a show you will find yourselves addicted to or does it have problems that need rehabilitating?
The premise of Rehab sees 26 year old pop star “Kid Pop” (think a mix of Robbie Williams when he first left Take That with a Gareth Gates haircut and Bono sunglasses) forced to enter rehab for sixty days after ending up in the tabloids being caught doing drugs. A story we have all read about at some point, but never seen for ourselves what goes on from discovery to discharge. This leads to a very interesting premise which Rehab uses every opportunity to pull material from.
With a book by Elliot Davis, Rehab is, on the surface, a light-hearted look at celebrity and scandal but is far deeper than that, with its comedic tone masking a surprising amount of depth. The show approaches its themes of addiction and rehabilitation with extreme sensitivity. While it is littered with laugh out loud moments, the actual topic of addiction is never cheapened for a laugh, and so the writing should be praised for its beautiful handling. A testament to the writing is the journey of emotions you go through watching it from extreme highs to a deeply troubling moment towards the end of the first act, ultimately reaching a satisfying conclusion with themes of redemption.
Rehab also boasts incredible songs written by Grant Black (son of the legendary Don Black) and Murray Lachlan Young. From the humorous, albeit childish, introduction song ‘Wanker’ the variety of songs changes throughout, picking up towards the climax of the first act to reveal some extreme highlights including ‘Two Broken People’ and ‘Letters Goodbye’. The quality of songs dips slightly midway through act two with a particularly strange moment called ‘The Cheese Song’ which felt extremely out of place, while ‘Everyone’s Taking Cocaine’ felt like something that should have been in Diana (make of that what you will). Other than those though, the songs were consistently fantastic.
Though Rehab is playing a relatively small space, it boasts a sensational cast of instantly familiar names. Eastenders star Jonny Labey goes straight into his 2nd of three consecutive stage roles in quick succession this year to lead the pack as Kid Pop. Delving into a new side of his acting, he is great tapping into the character development of his instantly brash and tormented pop star.
Keith Allen plays Kid Pops deceitful manager Malcom Stone, whose dodgy dealings not only risk his clients reputation but his very life. Keith thrives in the role, giving a performance that can be described as anything but understated. Even though he may not be winning any awards for his vocals, he is still fabulous to watch in a role that runs the danger of being fairly one-note.
While the show may seem centred around those two, the true star of Rehab is Gloria Onitiri in a truly scene stealing and sensational turn as Lucy Blake. Channelling the complexities of her character, she is wonderfully vulnerable and relishes in having a decent role to sink her teeth into, following her time at Cinderella. She also delivers the vocal performances of the night, first with the beautiful and emotion number ‘Through His Eyes’ and later on the deeply moving ‘Museum Of Loss’ showcasing a voice that proves what an unrivalled talent she really is.
Such is the power of the writing of Rehab, even the smaller roles get time to shine. Phil Sealey is an absolute standout as Phil Newman, delivering one of the most touching moments in his number ‘Ordinary Girl’. TV and radio presenter Annabel Giles gets some of the biggest laugh out loud moments of the show, excellently delivering lines about her romps with unlikely newsreaders, while Marion Campbell excels as Martha, giving a commanding presence as she holds it together. West End royalty Jodie Steele has a fairly small role as Malcolms assistant Beth, but even in that she manages to make the most of it, delivering nuanced development and taking her big musical moment ‘Die at Twenty Seven and You’ll Live Forever’ and bringing the house down with her out of this world vocals.
Directed and choreographed by Gary Lloyd, the fairly small space of the Playground theatre is used for all its worth, with cast members eyeballing the audience and filling every inch of the limited stage. Set and lighting design from Andrew Exeter brings a certain grandeur to the affair with a versatile approach to the limited props being used, while crystal clear sound design from Chris Whybrow delivers a truly atmospheric setting.
For its first outing, Rehab is incredibly impressive. A great story full of fantastic character development shows how much potential there is for the future of this glorious show. It may not be perfect just yet but the fact it felt a bit like a work in progress only added to its charm. With a fantastic cast delivering some truly phenomenal musical numbers, this is definitely a show worth checking in and checking out. Be careful though, this is a show it could be very easy to find yourself addicted to.
Rehab The Musical plays at the Playground Theatre until September 17th. Tickets are limited but available from www.theplaygroundtheatre.london
Photos by Mark Senior