Does this fun and fan favourite musical still have the power to charm audiences? Emma Clarendon paid a visit to the Turbine Theatre to find out.
I first experienced the joy that is Eugenius! back in 2018 at the London Palladium – a huge space to fill for a brand new musical but it quickly grew a strong fan base and went onto have two successful runs at The Other Palace Theatre. Now it is back again in a slightly different form and this production feels as though it exposes some of the musical’s flaws and take away some of its powerful charm.
This is not to say however that there isn’t still a joy to be found in the production, with the songs still proving to be delightfully catchy and the wonderful sense of nostalgia that is brought vividly to life by an enthusiastic cast.
Set in 1988, Eugene is a kid with a passion for comics and superheroes, even to the extent where he has created his own comic based on the adventures of Tough Man and Super Hot Lady. Determined to make his own way and follow his passion, encouraged by his friends Janey and Ferris, Eugene soon catches the attention of Hollywood producers who want to make his story into a film. The story might be simple – but at the end of the day it is also uplifting and joyful.
Directed by Hannah Chissick, it has to be said that this production feels constrained on the size of the Turbine Theatre’s stage – despite the seamless way in which scene changes are made. This is particularly seen in the musical numbers, during which Aaron Renfree’s choreography can’t quite take full flight as it could do given the energy of the songs. It should be also added that it feels more apparent here certain aspects of the script don’t quite stand up so well, with Ferris’s attitude towards women just a little bit uncomfortable in places and I’m surprised that the ‘The No Pants Dance’ is still in the show. The humour I found to just be a little bit flat in places.
Yet, this being said there are still plenty of aspects of this production still to love – particularly Andy Walton’s wonderful video design, brightly coloured and cartoonish to fit the story well and really immerses the audience into the world of cartoons and superheroes. The script has plenty of wonderful nostalgic moments to enjoy – and I have to say I did enjoy in which the song ‘Hollywood’ is presented, with its numerous references to films in the 1980’s. But for me, what really still stands out is the music and lyrics – filled with the 1980’s vibe that can pick out familiar references to songs – but mixed up in a new way. Songs such as ‘ Don’t Shoot for the Stars Shoot Higher’ and ‘Go Eugenius!’ has plenty of positive vibes that will have you humming them after the show, while ‘Comic Book Kind of Love’ is a fabulous power ballad.
The cast themselves really throw themselves into the characters, really enhancing the fun behind the story. It would be fair to say that Rhys Taylor as Theo (Lex Logan’s assistant) gets and delivers all the best lines in the script which gives a lot of punch to the humour that can be lacking elsewhere. Elliott Evans provides a charming performance as Eugene, with a nice chemistry with Jaina Brock-Patel’s Janey. Elswhere, Dominic Andersen is wonderfully comical as Gerhard who also becomes Tough Man for the film – it enhances the cartoonish vibe of the whole production as does Joseph Beach’s interpretation of Evil Lord Hector (whose character bizarrely cross from the fantasy world into the real one).
Overall, Eugenius! is still plenty of fun and has enough to entertain – but this production seems to highlight things that could be changed about the musical (the misogyny – even though it is set in the 1980’s still feels misplaced and could have been left out as it doesn’t make a point in the story) as opposed to really making it shine and seems to have taken some of the power out of the musical. This being said, fans will still relish this opportunity to hear the songs being performed live again.
By Emma Clarendon
Eugenius! Continues to run at the Turbine Theatre until the 28th May