First performed as a concert version at the London Palladium way back in 2016, Eugenius brings comic book madness to the stage in a crazy superhero caper featuring a number of stagey favourites including Rob Houchen, Laura Baldwin and Scott Paige. As a treat during lockdown, this fully staged production of Eugenius, filmed live at the Other Palace in 2018, was made available on Youtube, and it really is a treat, even for someone like me who has never really had that much of an interest in comic books and superheroes.
With a book and lyrics by Ben Adams and Chris Wilkins, Eugenius tells the story of Eugene (Rob Houchen), a comic book creating superhero loving teenage boy growing up in 1988. Despite being encouraged by his best friends Janey (Laura Baldwin) and Ferris (Dan Buckley), Eugene is reluctant to share his ‘Tough Man’ comic book creation with the world when faced with his own shyness and the relentless bullying of the cool kids. But when a Hollywood production team discovers his work, Eugene is thrust into the limelight and when his creation suddenly comes to life, it’s up to him to save the world.
I think I have said it before in other reviews, but honestly Rob Houchen could sing the dictionary and make it sound amazing. His vocals are an absolute dream and he brings the near constantly nervous character of Eugene to life brilliantly, he’s instantly lovable and a character who is very easy to root for, especially with the regularly revisited lyric ‘Go Eugenius, go Eugene’. Very rarely off of the stage, Houchen shines in this quirky fun role and his chemistry with Laura Baldwin as Janey is simply charming. The pair’s act two reprise of ‘Comic Book Kind of Love’ is a highlight.
Dan Buckley plays Ferris, Eugene’s right hand man, constantly bursting with energy and not really thinking about what he is saying. He makes a big entrance with his act one number ‘Who’s that guy?’ and keeps that energy going throughout. Scott Paige makes an impression as Theo, a major player in a Hollywood production team, dropping musical references throughout and desperately trying to get everything to work in order to impress his boss Lex (Alex Bourne). Lex rules the roost on the movie set and wants everyone around him to kiss up to him, much to Eugene’s dismay.
The role of the comic book baddie Hector is played by Neil McDermott, and he delights in every nasty moment. Whether it’s bossing around his robotic companion or confusing the movie world with the real one, Hector is the character that you love to hate. Shaun Dalton and Emily Tierney play the roles of Tough Man and Super Hot Lady respectively, and have the audience in stitches as the dim witted actors.
The ensemble swap and change between multiple characters throughout the production and make it look very easy to do so, one minute they are Eugene’s class mates, then Hollywood executives, to actors in some sometimes rather ridiculous costumes. Their energy remains sky high throughout and it is clear that they are having an absolute ball with it.
This is show that is packed full with catchy tunes and littered with many a comic book reference. As someone who has never really read any comic books or watched that many superhero movies, I have to admit that a few of the references went over my head a little, but that didn’t take away from the enjoyment. Yes, it’s over the top and silly, but that is what makes it so much fun. With lots of funny costumes, a number of references to other musicals, great music and genuinely likable characters, you’ll be hard pushed not to enjoy Eugenius. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, and it’s wonderful to see the cast having so much fun with it. And the title song will be stuck in your head for hours. I hope that when the theatres reopen, Eugenius will finally get that West End Transfer that was so cruelly ripped away from it before.