The programme for Eugenius includes a review by Alun Hood of Whats On Stage, which references The Rocky Horror Show, Little Shop of Horrors and Hedwig and the Angry Inch, telling us that cult musicals can be about the strangest things. Herein lies the problem with Eugenius, cult musicals are not prescribed by the creators, nor by reviewers, the label is very much given based on inauspicious starts and audience reactions.
Hood details the humble beginnings of these previous shows which is the total opposite of the origins of Eugenius, written by a pop star and produced by a movie star, this show’s first performance was in the 2000+ seat London Palladium!
This pursuit of “cult” status bleeds into the show itself, with the writers seeming to have a tick list of what to include to secure it. Geeky leading character – tick, B movie homage – tick, over the top bad guy – double tick as there is two of them, knowing nods and in jokes – tick.
The musical is the story of Eugene, a schoolboy geek who writes comic books featuring his hero “Tough Man” and his side kick “Super Hot Lady”. Along with his two friends, Janey and Feris, Eugene is navigating his teen years in small town 1980s America, when bizarrely a talent scout turns up at his school and before you can say “that seems unlikely” Eugene has left his friends (not to mention school and his father) behind to head to Hollywood as his comic book is to be made into a movie.
I appreciate that questioning the credibility of the story of any musical is a slippery slope, but there is too much in the plot line of Eugenius that feels forced to enable a particular gag or set piece to be shoe horned in. A joke about OJ Simpson announces itself about 5 minutes before the punch line. In fairness, a man on the row in front appeared to think it was the greatest comedy moment he had ever witnessed, so perhaps it is just me!
The clunking plot is mostly rescued by the brilliant performers. Rob Houchen as Eugene is excellent and Daniel Buckley plays desperate virgin Feris just the right side of creepy.
However it t is Laura Baldwin as lovesick Janey who really grabs the production and runs with it. Her solo “The Future’s Bright” is delivered in full 1980s style complete with wind machine and backing group in fingerless gloves and is genuinely hilarious.
Special mention also for Emily Tierney as Carrie whose audition for the Super Hot Lady role is brilliant. With musical accompaniment by (shoehorn alert) Flock of Eagles, Tierney channels 1980s Jane Fonda in a work out wear, crossed with Olivia Newton John in the Lets Get Physical video and delivers another stand out number in the show.
There is no doubt that the songs are great. Having lived through the 80s there were a number of tunes that I thought “that is just like…” and the song Go You Genius / Go Eugenius is the ultimate ear worm!
Watching the audience reaction, it is clear that Eugenius has already picked up a loyal base of fans – the “Eugenies” – but I would seriously question whether this will be packing the theatres in decades to come like the musicals it is so keen to be compared to.
Reviewed by Emma Heath
Photo: Scott Rylander
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