Rehab the Musical at the Playground Theatre – review

The new musical opens in London

Gloria Onitiri, Jodie Steele and Keith Allen
Gloria Onitiri, Jodie Steele and Keith Allen
© Mark Senior

To begin with a clarification: this is not an Amy Winehouse jukebox musical, as many of my friends assumed it was when I told them I was seeing this show. Instead, this is an original show – though it does explore many themes a Winehouse musical might: addiction, second chances, and the corrupt PR machine of the music industry in the '90s and early '00s.

Grant Black, Murray Lachlan Young and Elliot Davis' musical sees Kid Pop (Jonny Labey), a music icon akin to Robbie Williams and the Gallagher brothers, sentenced to a 60-day stint in a rehab facility following his Class A activities being caught in the tabloids. While Kid Pop adjusts to life at "The Glade" and its residents (including a tanning addict called Barry Bronze and a compulsive overeater), his manager and assistant (Keith Allen and Jodie Steele) plot to keep his name in all the tabloids using a desperate single mother with demons of her own (Gloria Onitiri).

One may at first think that this show is specifically about addiction and recovery, and while there are some heartfelt songs that explore these themes, it's most compelling moments are based around the fame game and the importance of tabloids during this era. This means that the show is a little unbalanced and a bit chaotic – the opening number "Wanker" is loud and piercing, and doesn't do the best job of introducing us to the tone the musical actually takes.

Casting director Debbie O'Brien has assembled a cracking cast to perform and elevate this musical dramedy. Labey has the husky tones of a '90s rockstar (and the eyeliner to match), while Allen plays Kid Pop's scheming manager Malcolm Stone with evil relish and a cheap wig (though opting to speak rather than sing his lyrics). As Beth, Steele uses all that she delivered in Heathers and more to play a no-nonsense PR assistant clinging to the top. Her second act solo "Die at 27" is exhilarating and a real earworm.

As Barry Bronze, John Barr excels at witty one-liners while Phil Sealey as Phil Newman performs a really heartfelt character arc (you almost want more of him) with some of the best, tender, songs. It's a shame Marion Campbell doesn't have more to do as her voice is really something.

But this is Onitiri's show. Her two big numbers – beautiful ballads, including "Museum of Loss" – demonstrate the rich quality of her voice, flawless technique and emotional range. She's the real highlight in a show with a predictable plot.

Still, if you're a fan of satire, this is an enjoyable enough musical. It's unclear why there's a comedy song about cheese (though it is funny), and the climactic group number "Everyone's Taking Cocaine" (featuring accompanying dance moves) is perhaps a bit too…on the nose, but there are a smattering of catchy tunes.

This show won't be for everyone, but for those who like their musicals with a bit of bite or want to relive the era of the paps then this may tick all the boxes. There's even merchandise you can purchase, too, so it's clear the show sees itself with a further life.