Eugenius might be the most unoriginal ‘original musical’ I’ve ever seen.
Conceived by Ben Adams (of the boyband, A1) and Chris Wilkins, Eugenius is an odd hybrid of High School Musical and Return to the Forbidden Planet. Eugene (Liam Forde) is a geek with a passion for comic books, in fact, he’s writing his own as the adventures of ‘Tough Man’ (Shaun Dalton) and ‘Super Hot Lady’ (Melissa James) come to him in his dreams (see how this is already looking a little like a Harry Potter/Voldemort situation). After a plot set-up full of teenage angst, Eugene wins a competition and signs off the comic’s rights to Hollywood. It turns out that a real-life villain, Evil Lord Hector (Ian Hughes) who appears at sporadic moments in the plot, is hunting down Tough Man (they’re ‘Blood Brothers’ who were separated not long after birth) and, well, it doesn’t take a-genius (ha ha ha) to figure out how this meta mess pans out.
Eugenius includes so many pop culture references that you start to wonder whether any of it actually stems from the minds of its creators. Lord Hector has his own droid, every song is seemingly a take on an 80’s classic and it features very stale musical theatre jokes (I will never laugh at the smug inclusion of the phrase ‘one day more’. Ever.). Every character is a cliche (they even nonchalantly throw in that Eugene’s mother is dead for no real reason at all) and the whole piece succumbs to archetype gender stereotypes despite the creator’s flippant effort to comment on the current situation in Hollywood.
All of this might be forgivable if Eugenius was actually fun, but no, it constantly reverts to a ‘sing it loud and they’ll leave happy’ moto. The songs are either repetitive upbeat numbers that do little to forward the plot or somewhat generic ballads. One such ballad even turns into upbeat 80’s pop song parody just as the production’s only glimmering sliver of nuance is achieved.
It’s clear that the cast works hard to keep Eugenius afloat, they do sing well but, in part, they’ve clearly been directed ham up their acting which begins to grate by the end. That being said, Ian Hughes’s Lord Hector is a welcome relief whenever he pops up – it’s a spot on caricature. The multi-level set also makes good use of The Other Palace’s small space and the pink-toned lighting design is a definite highlight.
Obviously, Eugenius is a clear attempt to send up the 80’s superhero genre, but it ends up being a messy mixture of far too many derivative concepts. I left the theatre resenting the fact that the ‘go Eugenius, go Eugene’ earworm was stuck in my head and contrary to the billboard on the front of the theatre I definitely don’t need to see it again.
Overall, I give Eugenius a rating of 2/5.
The Original West End Cast Recording of Eugenius* is available now!