There is no escaping ‘80s nostalgia right now, what with Stranger Things and the Ghostbusters reboot. There’s also no escaping superheroes, with the various films Marvel and DC are releasing at speed every year. Eugenius!, a new musical with book, music, and lyrics by Ben Adams and Chris Wilkins, capitalises on these premises as it opens at The Other Palace Theatre after a one-off concert at the London Palladium.
Eugenius! tells the story of the aptly named Eugene, a stereotypical ‘G-E-EK’ (as he sings). Eugene and his two friends – besotted-with-him Janey, and energy ball Feris – don’t fit in at school, and Eugene spends his days drawing his own comic book of superhero adventures with the main characters of Tough Man and Super Hot Lady. Hollywood comes calling, and Eugene is faced with choosing the right decision, and learning to become his own superhero. There is also, of course, the predictable ‘two-friends-fall-in-love’ plot line at the end, too, and I can’t help but roll my eyes.
For, this is a show which is indeed rather cringey, despite how fun it is. To begin with, it appears as if it is trying too hard and naturally it is incredibly cheesy. But as the show progresses, it becomes more self-aware, and meta comments such as “last ones on stage sing the power ballad!” are received warmly. The 1980s vibes may be captured in the costumes (designed by Hannah Wolfe) and slick and nifty choreography (Aaron Renfree), but there are some moments of dialogue which, though acceptable back then, certainly make my toes curl now.
The treatment of women – particularly of the actress chosen to play Super Hot Lady – seems to focus upon their bodies, with almost every male character making some kind of comment about their breasts or body, with Eugene hiding an erection as she dances. A more uncomfortable scenario of Lex, Hollywood director (played by Cameron Blakeley) slimily sucks up to all the females, calling them ‘into his office’. With the recent #MeToo and #TimesUp movements this entire character could have been rethought as it all feels a bit too real and icky for a show which is supposed to be pure fun and celebration.
Comic book world and reality collide in a slightly confusing plot, with it being unclear whether Evil Lord Hector (amusingly and awkwardly played by Tim Hughes) is actually real or still a figment of Eugene’s (and, my default, everyone’s) imagination.
Performances throughout are fantastic, with Liam Forde displaying geeky charm as Eugene, and Laura Baldwin delivering some powerhouse vocals as Janey. Scott Paige, as Hollywood scout Theo delivers some iconic lines, and Daniel Buckley’s performance of cheeky Feris is hilarious and every comic moment of his lands.
Andrew Ellis’ lighting design should be commended – there are colours and strobes aplenty, and even some ‘malfunctioning’ fairy lights which are spread all the way across the auditorium. The songs capture the spirit of the ‘80s with a mixture of power ballad and electronic dance numbers, and will have you dancing in your seat and singing along to the finale song the entire journey home.
Whilst Eugenius! may not be a genius of a musical, it certainly will leave you dancing for joy and making you feel as if you can be your own superhero.
I was given complimentary press tickets for this performance, though all opinions are my own.