Eugenius! is billed as ‘a thrilling, high-energy 80s-inspired British musical with a superhero-sized heart and an uplifting score’ and well, judged by those criteria alone, it delivers.
There have certainly been many changes to the show since I last reviewed it back in 2018, and it is to the credit of both the creative team, and the producer Paul Taylor-Mills for Bill Kenwright that they have, on the whole, been positive for the show.
Even in this slimmed down version of a geek going out in search of fame and fortune, but discovering that the things most important to him are right back at home where he started, there’s the kernel of a great show trying to get out. But I don’t think they’re quite there yet. More of which later, but first the positives, and they are many.
Eugene (an incredibly sure-footed and likeable Elliot Evans, taking the role played by Rob Houchen back in 2018…Whatever happened to him?) dreams of being a writer of comic books. I mean LITERALLY dreams. And in his dreams we meet his creation Tough Man (a suitably muscular Dom Anderson in fine form), and his nemesis, Evil Lord Hector (the scene-stealing Joseph Beach).
Eugene has the usual American High School problems (why do so many writers of British Musicals site their shows in America? It’s beyond me…). He has a priapic best friend, Feris (the wonderfully realised and hilarious James Hameed), and the girl who loves him, Janey (Jaina Brock-Patel) but whom he sees only as a friend.
Anyway, stuff happens, and he finds his comic book creations being made into a film in Hollywood where he has the producer from Hell, Lex Hogan (Lara Denning), and her wonderfully camp assistant, Theo (the standout performer of the evening, Rhys Taylor).
After a never-fully-explored-or-explained plot point where Evil Lord Hector becomes real, fun and games ensue, and needless to say Eugene finds the hero within himself in order to save the day, finally realise that he loves Janey, etc.
Let’s take it as read that the set (great projections/videography from Andrew Exeter and Andy Walton), lighting (Exeter again), special effects etc., and the rest of the cast, are very good (if it is a bit loud). So, what else do I think?
Well, to be frank, there are still some issues with the show,
Firstly, some of the songs, even the good ones – of which there are many – overstay their welcome. You could, for example, cut a verse/chorus from Feris’s otherwise excellent song, ‘Who’s That Guy?’, and tighten the show. Likewise, Carrie’s dance number/Hollywood audition is completely surplus to requirements and wouldn’t be missed. The show needs a ruthless pruning and would easily benefit from ten minutes being taken out of it.
The rather bigger problem the team have is with the leading character.
We know Eugene is a geek, but as written here he comes across as a doormat, and that’s the kiss of death. I bet with half a day of re-writes Adams and Wilkins could turn this show around, and I urge them to, as I think it’s a great little show, for all its bonkers plotting – I LOVE the fish people…. Simple things, like instead of Eugene being cowed into submission in Hollywood, he needs to be fully on board – to begin with at least, so that the audience can follow his journey, and be engaged and willing him to change his mind when things do inevitably go completely mad, and he sees the light.
Anyway, great to see it back again. Go Eugine!
- Book, Music, & Lyrics: Ben Adams and Chris Wilkins
- Hannah Chissick
- Cast: Elliot Evans, James Hameed, Jaina Brock-Patel, Joseph Beach, Dom Andersen, Maomi Alade, Lara Denning, Maddison Firth, Sebastian Harwood, Rhys Taylor, Louis Doran
- The Turbine Theatre
- Until: 28th May 2023
- Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes including 1 x 20-minute interval
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