by Susannah Martin
Continuing from its stratospheric success earlier in the year, now-cult classic musical Eugenius! sets to stun audiences with another limited run at The Other Palace. Minor changes have occurred to revamp the fun, with some recasting and a new song replacing “Superhot Lady”. Sadly, there are no book rewrites, as this is where the show has the potential to go from global to universal.
The story is the typical 80’s trope of a teenage geek struggling to fit in. Jam-packed with super-geeky references, superhero fun and super-silliness, the story sees comic book-obsessed schoolboy Eugene given the opportunity to transform his Tough Man strip into a Hollywood film. And, like every 80’s film, it’s complete with a twee romantic subplot.
However, the motto is “don’t shoot for the stars, shoot higher”, and Eugenius! successfully manages to push the theme of believing in yourself to the limits, with crowd-rousing tunes that are genuinely toe-tapping and astonishingly memorable. Truly, Ben Adams’ score is one of the best to arrive in British musicals for years. Combine that with Aaron Renfree’s imaginative choreography, which makes the most of the theatre’s limited space, it creates active, dance-in-your-seat moments.
Rob Houchen is a harmless Eugene and Daniel Buckley reprises his fan-favourite performance as sidekick Feris, but it’s Laura Baldwin’s fierce Janey that captures the heart, with stellar vocals and comedic timing to boot. Scott Paige is wonderfully funny in a cameo role as Theo, and Christopher Ragland grounds the fun with his genuinely touching portrayal of Eugene’s Dad. Overall, the cast are good and viscerally energetic.
It’s great to see that “Superhot Lady” has been replaced by the much more badass “Hands Up!”, swapping innuendo for defiant, stomping lyrics. It’s unfortunate, in that respect, that the character Superhot Lady has gone from sweet and unassuming to stereotypical dumb blonde. Superhot Lady is the only part that hasn’t quite been mastered.
Hannah Wolfe’s tacky costumes make a swift return, and it would be a delight to see the show on a larger stage to at least allow for bigger budget ideas. But Ian Talbot’s fast-paced direction keeps everything moving along nicely, in a high-octane show that rarely lets up.
Despite being slightly reworked for a new run, there are clear improvements to be made, but Eugenius’ saving grace is its musical numbers and the plentiful laugh-out-loud moments. It’s clear that Eugenius! is already a lightning-fast hit for audiences, with superfans cosplaying and dancing along to routines. For that, this new musical is unmissable.
Eugenius! runs through 20 October.
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