You aren’t supposed to take Eugenius! seriously. The musical tribute to 80s pop culture, with its many neon costumes and a whinging, baby bottle-sucking villain, is one evil laugh away from pantomime, but it all forms part of an electric, feel-good production.
In this archive recording of the musical’s second run in 2018, Rob Houchen (Les Misérables) plays Eugene, a young boy dreaming up a comic book story about his own superhero, Tough Man and his twin brother, Evil Lord Hector. Joined by fellow geeks Janey (Waitress‘s Laura Baldwin) and Feris (Dan Buckley of The Book of Mormon), at first glance the story could easily be dismissed as yet another high school musical exploring the geek vs. cool kids dynamic, yet Eugenius! kept taking me by surprise.
There’s the fact that Harry Potter star Warwick Davis is one of the producers and Brian Blessed and Mark Hamill both make cameos, then it’s the unexpectedly catchy and impressive numbers from Ben Adams and Chris Wilkins. The lead track Go Eugenius has audiences punching the air with its Summer of ’69-like guitar riffs, the tight bass grooves of Hollywood captures the vibrant lights of the entertainment industry and away from the more euphoric songs Comic Book Kind of Love is beautifully melodic, and wonderfully performed by Houchen.
As Eugenius is introduced to Hollywood producer Lex Logan (Alex Bourne), the love of 80s pop culture – and indeed, wider musical theatre – shines through with references to Back to the Future, Les Misérables and, quite possibly, Arnold Schwarzenegger (with actor Gerhard sporting an all too familiar accent). These little nods are all the more meta when you consider Houchen’s involvement, but other moments of self-awareness are equally hilarious, such as a brilliant line from Lex’s assistant Theo (Scott Paigey) about the last two people on stage having to perform a power ballad.
However, it is a shame that such witty self-awareness doesn’t extend to the role of Tough Man’s sidekick, Super Hot Lady – played by Carrie, who is played by Emily Tierney (this makes sense in the show). Sporting a dressing gown, her character is easily misled and falls into the ‘damsel in distress’ stereotype in a way which distances itself from the show’s general hyperbole. There is a challenge to this of the objectification and choice of name towards the end, but it feels throwaway in nature – the ridicule of the negative media trope could have gone further in this meta musical.
It’s likely that Eugenius! won’t be to everyone’s tastes as a particularly quirky show, but as the production is made available online for all in these uncertain times, it may just be what a lot of us need right now.
Eugenius! played at The Other Palace in 2018. A recorded version of the show is available to watch online via the musical’s Facebook page.
A digital version has been uploaded to raise funds for Acting for Others. Donations can be made on JustGiving.com.
Production Images: Scott Rylander.