The geek musical of the decade, Eugenius!, returns to The Other Palace for a strictly limited run reviewd by Susy Brett.
Eugenius! is a homage to all the best things about ‘80s music and cinema. It tells the story of Eugene (Rob Houchen), a geeky teenage comic book writer, who wins the chance to have his comic, Toughman, adapted into a Hollywood blockbuster. However, all is not what it seems when one of the actors hits the role a little too close to the mark. Along with his best friends, Janey (Laura Baldwin) and Feris (Daniel Buckley), Eugene must find the superhero inside himself to save the day.
There is so much to love about Eugenius!. It is full of top-notch musical numbers that will have one bobbing in their seat and humming on the tube. It has an exceptionally talented cast of performers who all look like they’re having the time of their lives. It has a compelling story that makes for hilarious fun and perfect parody. Not to mention, it’s a geek wonderland – with comedic references and in-jokes aplenty.
The catchy music and story is the brainchild of Ben Adams and Chris Wilkins, who have done a fantastic job at creating distinctive musical numbers that flow brilliantly through the show. From songs that will get one on their feet dancing, like Go Eugenius! to the terrific power ballad Comic Book Kind of Love, every number is a treat for the ears. There’s also some very punchy choreography in there courtesy of Aaron Renfree, which makes the most of the small stage space at The Other Palace.
There were some staging moments I absolutely loved. True to ‘80s form, Eugenius! uses multimedia in a number of ways – but none of which gratuitously. There’s a wonderfully geeky comic book montage during Comic Book Kind of Love, which I consider epic romance. The final battle between Eugene and Lord Hector is one of the best superhero battle sequences I have seen on stage, using lighting, sound and movement to create an utterly thrilling climax.
Rob Houchen is new to Eugenius! but excels in a role that is quite unlike some of his previous jobs. He hits adorable geek spot on, bringing something that feels very honest and touching to the character of Eugene. Also new to Eugenius! is Neil McDermott, who creates a unique sort of evil with his energetic performance as the Evil Lord Hector.
The role of Feris seems tailor-made for Daniel Buckley, who shines every moment he’s on stage as the unapologetically geeky sidekick Feris. Equally dazzling in her role is Laura Baldwin as Eugene’s super supportive best friend Janey. While these characters remain sidekick caricatures of ‘80s cinema, effort is made to adapt them to 2018 – Feris’s inappropriate behaviour towards women seems dialled down since the last run, while it’s clear that Janey is a major driving force in Eugene’s story rather than a simple love interest.
There have been a few changes since the last run of Eugenius! at the Other Palace, mostly positive (although sadly, there seemed to be fewer fish people). It seems to have worked out some of its sexism issues (the ones that remain are inbuilt in the context of 80s cinema, which is fine as it’s self aware). Superhot Lady has a new song, Hands Up, which makes for a bigger and more bad-ass opening to act two.
Eugenius! is one of the catchiest new musicals in years, with a killer soundtrack and story to boot. It is a musical that appeals directly to fan culture, but will be a night to remember for anyone.