REVIEW: Eugenius! (London Palladium)
The new writing to have emerged over the last few years in the musical theatre world has often left much to be desired. Only the occasional piece has managed to make its mark among the long celebrated classics currently in the West End. While the endeavour to create an entirely original concept is of course admirable, often the songs are meandering and the characters lack relatability. Thankfully, Eugenius! is not among this throng. It inflates the balloon of 80s pop culture and pierces it with a neon laser gun and the ensuing boom echoes with the beautiful cacophony of synthesisers and drum machines. Though a concert performance of the full musical, this show positively overflows with fast paced dialogue, quirky characters, catchy songs and a cast of endless talent.
Eugene is a geek. Disinterested in his schoolwork and the ‘cool kids’ that torment him in class, he spends his time creating a comic strip for an original superhero: Tough Man. Tough Man is a muscle-bound macho man whose only weakness is love. The comic’s characters and plot are well received and, after some initial hesitation, Eugene is persuaded by his best friends Janey and Feris to present his creation at school when the representative of a Hollywood film company visits. Impressed by his imaginative skill, they adapt the comic into a full movie. Eugene finds out what it is like to hit the big time but struggles to maintain control of his masterpiece when he is separated from his friends and family. To make matters worse, the previously assumed fictional Evil Lord Hector arrives seeking to destroy Tough Man who – as it turns out – is not just a figment of Eugene’s imagination.
Quite simply, Eugenius! is a staggering success. Writers Ben Adams and Chris Wilkins have crafted a beautiful show that is universally accessible and balances high-octane dance tracks with sensational power ballads that sound as though plucked straight from the 80s airwaves. Of course this is a stripped back rendition of what is to become a full-blown musical so costumes, set and props were minimal to say the least. However, the duo’s skills in comedy and composition keep the audience utterly entranced. The success of the piece is furthered greatly by Aaron Renfree’s inventive choreography which has the dancers swooping about the stage with fantastic energy and clockwork timing. Refreshingly, every single song in Eugenius! is a crowd pleaser. Particularly memorable are Who’s That Guy, Comic Book Kind of Love, She’s Amazing and of course the show’s overarching maxim Go Eugenius. The cast as a whole work wonderfully. There are a couple of roles that need some tweaking but on the whole they are well developed. Louis Maskell injects a suitably awkward charisma into the leading role of Eugene and his rich tenor soars throughout the show. Amy Lennox’s Janey bursts with both ferocity and tenderness while Daniel Buckley, as Feris, is nothing short of a comic genius. Equally hilarious is Samuel Holmes as Theo, whose graceful stance and continually arching eyebrows lend themselves fantastically to his quiet one liners. Summer Strallen, playing Carrie (playing Super Hot Lady) displays her inimitable dancing prowess, leading the cast through one of the more high-powered numbers.
Dotted throughout Eugenius! there are moments that are clearly dependent on set and costume and cannot be fully realised until the show is presented in its entirety. Despite that, this is already a very exciting show. As soon as the soundtrack becomes available to download, I urge you to get your hands on it and get ready for a space age celebration of all things geeky!
Reviewed by Alex Foott