Review: REHAB THE MUSICAL, Playground Theater

“One minute, one day, one hour at a time” reads a large sign on the back wall of the space as we take our seats for the world premiere of Rehab the Musical. It’s a common mantra used in rehabilitation, whether dealing with addictions, mental health issues, or other forms of trauma. The whole thing looks quite institutional, and some carefully positioned chairs give the impression of some sort of meeting space.

Set on the eve of the new millennium, rehab tells the story of Kid Pop, a manufactured music artist who gets caught on camera doing drugs. In court, he is sentenced to 60 days of rehab, a punishment he decides will be a walk in the park and a break from the spotlight for a while. The first issue of the series, simply titled “Wanker”, encapsulates the character of Kid Pop beautifully, and the story continues rapidly until he lives up to the title as he meets the other residents of “The glade”. The exclusive establishment also treats a tanning addict, a compulsive eater, and a sex addict, among others, and these characters are all well entrenched in the rehabilitation process.

The production is more poignant when you learn that it is inspired by writer Grant Black’s own experiences and his time in a rehabilitation center. Patient issues are handled with sensitivity, but with a warm humor that allows us to see each character as more than their addiction.

The cast is a pleasure to watch. Keith Allen is superbly cast as Malcolm Stone, the sleazy Kid Pop agent who is after every penny he can get, no matter what the physical, emotional or monetary cost to his client. Jonny Labey as Kid Pop is the epitome of a 90s male popstar heartbeat, including questionable gelled hair, a union jack t-shirt and some seriously dodgy sunglasses! It’s not until the second act that we sympathize with him, however slightly, but once we meet his softer side, it’s impossible not to cheer him on to triumph over his awful agent.

Lucy is a former stripper, who is placed in a rehab facility by Stone to get pictures of Kid Pop to keep her story in the tabloid headlines, and Gloria Onitiri portrays the character’s emotional turmoil with real sensitivity. . John Barr provides wonderfully comic relief as tan addict Barry Bronze and Phil Sealy as the lovable Phil – who has a few little secrets up his sleeve! Jodie Steele gives a stunning performance as Beth Boscombe, Malcolm Stone’s top assistant, who is always two steps ahead of the game, and delivers a deliciously mischievous rendition of ‘Die at Twenty Seven and You’ ll Live Forever”.

Grant Black and Murray Lachlan Young wrote some fantastically catchy numbers that have a real 90s feel about them and the actors are all exceptionally gifted singers. The most notable vocal numbers come from Gloria Onitiri singing “Through his Eyes”, and Marion Campbell and Onitiri dueting on “Museum of Loss”. The closing number “Just for Today” is a beautiful and incredibly moving end to the play.

There’s a lot to enjoy in rehab but it still feels like there’s more development to be done, and hopefully the show gets the chance to progress further in the not-too-distant future.

**** Four stars

Reviewed by: Sarah Brown

Rehab the Musical plays at the Playground Theater until September 17, with tickets available here.

Harold B. McConnell