There’s no shortage of Broadway transfers, or well-trodden revivals in the West End right now. In desperately short supply though, is a new generation of homegrown musicals capable of eliciting the excitement and wonderment, which the likes of Andrew Lloyd-Webber could in the seventies and eighties. Now playing at The Other Palace, could Eugenius! be the new British, sci-fi-comedy musical which doesn’t just shoot for the stars, but shoots higher?
Eugenius!, directed by Ian Talbot, is itself set in that magical era of the eighties, young geek Eugene, escapes the jocks by writing comic books about Tough Man (he’s tough, but fair) and his sidekick Superhot Lady (…it is supposed to be the eighties) who regularly do battle with Evil Lord Hector. Eugene’s comics catch the eye of a movie studio executive, and before you can say ‘Hollywood’, Eugene and friends set off on an adventure to bring Tough Man to life, but get far more than they, or we, bargained for.
Written by Chris Wilkins and Ben Adams, Eugenius! is like the plot of every cheesy eighties movie, wrapped up in to a Lycra clad bundle of euphoria, and it couldn’t be more wonderful. A knowledge of the decade helps for the many cultural references, but even if you’re not sure what a Fraggle does, or who Skeletor is, you’ll still be howling with laughter.
From Scott Paige’s delightfully sassy Theo, and a certain Mark Hamill voicing Kevin the Robot, to the energetic ensemble, the cast is superb. Liam Forde is a real find as Eugene, he plays the geek that everyone is able to immediately fall in love with. While Daniel Buckley, as Feris, is a whirlwind of comic exuberance who needs to be seen to be believed. Whenever Janey is on stage, Laura Baldwin truly lights up the room, lending magnificent vocals to an incredible score.
And, it has to be said, an astonishingly catchy, and downright beautiful score from Ben Adams and Chris Wilkins. Even if it is meant to be tongue in cheek, just listen to the hook in ‘Happy Endings Don’t Exist’ or the solo version of ‘Comic Book Kind of Love’, Eugenius! is a musical theatre masterpiece.
Need more proof? As we left the theatre, every single person seemed to be humming or singing one of the tracks. With shoulders swaying and feet tapping, it felt like we, the audience, were just two bars away from a full-blown, flash-mob reprise of the second act. That kind of exhilaration is something that musical theatre writers can only dream of.
Part of The Other Palace’s core purpose is to allow writers the opportunity to refine new work, without the hinderance of complicated staging. Here it has worked, in so much as the writing has evolved significantly, and feels fully formed, while an ambitious lighting set-up gives it more the look of a rock concert. However, Eugenius! now desperately needs a bigger stage, so that it can bring lavish sets to its big hearted and eccentric plot, and live up to its almost limitless potential.
It sometimes feels like British musical theatre truly is stuck in the eighties, scared to do anything that breaks the mould. Here, not only has that mould been broken, but outside the theatre, Eugenius! has embraced the world of social media like no other West End production before, and by actively engaging with audiences, have already created a rapidly growing fandom.
Ben Adams and Chris Wilkins may just have proven that they can rival they greatest of musical impresarios, while Eugenius!, this most becoming of musicals, could change the world, of British musical theatre at least.