We first encountered Eugenius! back in 2018 when it played at The Other Palace theatre and were quite pleasantly surprised – describing this new British musical as “a retro slice of ’80s camp fun”. At its heart, it’s a classic underdog story – following the life of teenage geek Eugene, we watch as he rallies against the school bullies and the disapproving words of his father to pursue his dream of writing a superhero comic story. Music, book and lyrics are written by Ben Adams (of A1 fame) and Chris Wilkins.
While it’s now transferred to a smaller space – the Turbine Theatre, squirrelled away under the railway arches near Battersea Power Station, is much more intimate than its previous setting – much of what we said about Eugenius! last time remains true. We still absolutely love the songs, we still think the plot and script have some shortcomings. This is a new cast, but they bring a similarly infectious energy to the stage resulting in a show which, in spite of its problems, is difficult to dislike.
The music really is fantastic – whether it’s the catchy chorus of signature song Go Eugenius! or the beautiful ballad Comic Book Kind of Love, these are some of most memorable songs we’ve heard in the world of musical theatre for quite some time. There are numerous stellar performances, too – our leads Elliott Evans as Eugene and Jaina Brock-Patel as love interest Janey both deliver brilliant vocals throughout, while Lara Denning is entertaining as villain Lex Hogan and Rhys Taylor is hilarious as her delightfully camp sidekick Theo.
It’s a shame the show is rather let down by its book – we had some qualms about how predictable the plot was when we saw it at the Other Palace; this genuinely is a comic book story about a guy who searches for the hero inside himself in order to save the world and get the girl.
We previously caught Eugenius! five years ago and time has not been kind to it – the cliches feel even lazier, the attitudes to gender roles feel even more outdated. This is epitomised in the character of Feris (James Hameed does his best with an unfortunate role) who makes a pass at pretty much every female character; the show seems to want us to embrace this as an endearing quirk, one of his charming foibles – really it all just feels a bit uncomfortable. His song No Pants Dance, sung to his love interest, is the worst offender – it’s musically fantastic but lyrically problematic, to put it mildly.
In spite of the issues with the text – of which there are many – Eugenius! still somehow manages to be an enjoyable night out. This is testament to the quality of the musical material and the sheer talent and energy that the cast bring to the stage. Oh and did we mention the brilliantly effective choreography? Not only does it look great but you’ll almost certainly be dancing along yourself by the grand finale. This show is far from perfect but it’s terrific fun nonetheless.
GAY TIMES gives Eugenius! – 3/5
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