Laughter was best medicine while in rehab

Mike Cohen
8 min readJan 22, 2024

Jewish Telegraph, January 2024

Grant Black
Pictures: Mark Senior

REHAB The Musical opened in London this week to rave reviews and sell-out crowds. But creator and co-writer Grant Black’s joy at seeing the show come to life is tempered by the fact that its biggest fan is absent from its five-week run . . . his late mother Shirley.
“This show is dedicated to my mother, who we lost five and a half years ago,” Grant told me. “I still feel she’s here, holding my hand and guiding us as she always has done. She saw early drafts of the script. She was the biggest supporter of this show.”
The 60-year-old added: “She was our first investor when I started writing this show (with co-writer Murray Lachlan Young). We needed some sort of seed money because we wanted to go here and there for research. Mum was just ‘right, I’m paying for it. I’m behind you all the way. I just love it’.”
Shirley, who was married to Don Black (yes, THAT Don Black) for 60 years, was at an early reading of the script.
“Most Jewish boys love their mum,” Grant added. “Anyone who says time is a great healer never met my mum. She was extraordinary.”
Grant came up with the idea for Rehab unsurprisingly while in rehab for cocaine use. He believes that using comedy elevates the story.
“What separates it from anything else is it comes from a very real place,” he explained.
“When I went to rehab, the only way I and my fellow inmates got through it was with laughter.
“I had the idea for the show when I was there and we were writing goodbye letters to our addictions and our poisons, and I thought it would make a great musical.
“I’d never heard honesty like it. People were saying the most harrowing things to a roomful of strangers, things that their families didn’t know about them.
“And the honesty of it really took me aback and stayed with me. It was shocking, but we laughed our way through it as a group.”
The story follows cocky singer Kid Pop (Christian Maynard) being photographed by the paparazzi taking drugs. He is sentenced to six months in rehab, which he thinks will be a piece of cake . . . but soon discovers some home truths.
Meanwhile, his ruthless manager Malcolm Stone (Keith Allen), in an effort to keep him in the spotlight so the money continues to come in, sends stripper Lucy Blake (Maiya Quansah-Breed) to the rehab centre to get uncompromising pictures of the young star.
“Kid Pop meets all these beautifully flawed characters when he’s in there,” Grant continued. “The same way as something magical happens in real rehab, something magical is happening in this space.
“I had a 23-year-old boy come up to me to say he was nine days clean and he’s got a real battle on his hands. But listening to the last song in act one, Letters Goodbye, it meant he was never going near that stuff again.
“And the next night a woman from Cocaine Anonymous told me, ‘wow, this is so real and moving’.
“The fact that people are taking away a message of hope, that’s great.
“And the fact that the show’s been endorsed by Crossroads, which is Eric Clapton’s rehab centre in Antigua, that’s just wonderful and gives us the seal of approval from that world.”
He added: “In today’s world, there isn’t a family that’s not affected somehow by addiction and mental health and the issues that we touch on. It’s a very funny show about a serious subject.”
The opening song, which we can’t name in a family newspaper, sees the judge insulting Kid Pop as he sentences him.
Grant felt that he was a Kid Pop when he arrived at rehab.
“When I got there on the first day, I thought, oh my gosh, these people really are damaged. And I’m nothing like this. I was just the party boy who went a little too far and had a little too much fun.
“I was going to leave after three hours, but some 22-year-old kid begged me to just give it 24 hours, which I did. And I realised I needed to be there. And it was life changing. I’ve been clean for 24 years.”
Characters going through rehab in the show include Phil Newman (Oscar Conlon-Morrey), a cross-dressing overeater with a desire to own a cheese shop, and tanning addict Barry Bronze (John Barr),
“They are an amalgamation of things.” Grant said. “To a large extent, they’re all me — including Malcolm Stone. The people I was in with will recognise some parts of themselves for sure.”
The cast also includes iconic singer Mica Paris, West End royalty Jodie Steele, Simon Shorten, Rebecca Thornhill, Carly Burns, Ben Mabberley and Lucy Sinclair.
“I’m so impressed with all the cast,” said Grant. “Keith Allen is an icon and an extremely funny man. Just a joy to be with.
“Jodie and Maiya are unbelievable. And Christian’s voice reminds me of Terence Trent D’Arby.
“Every night I have a different favourite song. When Mica sings anything, it’s hard not to instantly fall in love with it. She is just sensational. We’ve got the best cast in the West End.”
Rehab isn’t actually in the West End as such — although the venue, Neon 194, is just a few minutes walk from the heart of London’s theatreland.
“It’s a very cool space,” Grant told me. “It makes me feel like we’re in the meat district in New York or Greenwich Village.
“It kind of feels like you’re in a rehab centre. Just walking down Piccadilly and going in there and hearing these amazing voices singing my songs, it’s quite a thrill.”
He added: “This is the final stepping stone to the West End, which is a funny thing to say, because we’re in the West End. The address is 194 Piccadilly. But we play to 235 people each night and we want it to go to a place where it can play to 900 or 1,000 people each night. That’s the next move for the show.
“The problem in this country is there’s not enough theatres. Some things just never move, like Frozen and Hamilton. They deserve to be there for ever. But it makes it harder for us who want that space.
“Every theatre owner is aware of this show. The Sunday Express called it the most anticipated show of 2024.”
It’s hard to speak to Grant without mentioning the elephant in the room — his dad, Don Black.
Legendary Don is currently back in the spotlight thanks to Sunset Boulevard, starring Nicole Scherzinger, which is making the move from the West End to Broadway later this year.
But he’s quick to acknowledge that the name may have helped his career a little.
He said: “I like to think I can stand on my own two feet, but when people know who your dad is . . . he is a living legend. And so I’m extremely proud of him.
“A lot of people introduce me as Don ‘Born Free’ Black’s son.
“I’m very lucky that we live next door to each other, so we see so much of each other. And my dad is so close with my son Ulysses, who is going to be barmitzvah next year.
“If you met my dad, he is the most normal, down-to-earth guy you’ll ever meet. And also the funniest. He’s an extraordinary talent, but he’s an even better dad.”
And growing up in London, Grant took an interest in his dad’s career “syllable by syllable”.
He added: “Everything I write, I run past dad and he runs everything he writes past me, not that he needs to.”
They recently collaborated on the song Love Should Come With a Warning for Van Morrison.
High-achievers seem to run in Grant’s family. His wife Gay-Yee is a cellist in the multi-million selling string quartet Bond.
“When I met her, she was away half of the year, which I thought was the ideal girlfriend,” he joked. “Now, I can’t bear it if she goes out for half an hour.”
Grant turned to writing music at a late age. His first foray in the industry was as a manager of 1980s pop idol Adam Ant.
“I spent a lot of time when I was a younger man flying around the world with Adam and doing concerts at Madison Square Gardens and all that stuff,” he said.
He then started advising people on their songs before realising that he should write songs.
“Most people start when they’re teenagers, whereas I was busy as a manager and flying around the world,” he explained.
“I used to look after a group called Reel to Real, who had a massive record called I Like to Move It.
“Then when I started writing songs, I got lucky pretty quickly. I wrote a song called Naughty Girl for Holly Valance, which was number three in 2002.
“I also wrote Symphony for Sarah Brightman, which was the title of her album in 2008.”
But perhaps the biggest song he wrote was Ave Maria, which was adopted by Pope Francis for the Pope’s jubilee.
“It was a lovely song for a Yiddishe boy,” he laughed. “I should have called it Oy Vey Maria.
“I met the Pope. He sort of mumbled at me. I bowed and that was it.”
Grant says he prefers writing for musicals rather than hit singles.
“When you are writing a pop song you are just looking for that hook, that thing that the postman is going to whistle,” he explained.
“If you wrote a title like I Concentrate on You, you think ‘okay, now let’s dumb it down a bit’.
“If it was for one of these pop stars today that I’ve written for, like an Olly Murs, you’d probably call it I Think of You, which doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.
“There’s something about writing for theatre, I’ve always been very aware of it, obviously, because of my dad.
“The song has to be great, but more importantly, it has to be right, it has to further the plot, illuminate the character. It is much more rewarding than writing a pop song.”
As well as the West End, Grant believes Rehab could go international.
“There are so many places that are screaming for the show,” he said. “It is a hugely international story.
“It’s a love story as well. It makes you laugh, it makes you cry and it makes you think.
“A lot of people were also saying what a movie it would make.”
Grant is planning to approach a cast recording of the show in the same way Hamilton did theirs.
“The cast album was number one in America,” he explained. “Then they did a mixtape album, which had all the Kelly Clarksons of the world on it and stuff like that, and just slightly different mixes and versions. So we’ll probably follow that path.”
Rehab The Musical run until February 17, although Grant revealed that they’ve been offered an extra five weeks at Neon 194.
“A lot depends on cast availability,” he said. “We may wait for a bigger space.”



Mike Cohen

Jewish Telegraph deputy editor and arts editor. Email with your Jewish arts stories