BWW Review: EUGENIUS, The Other Palace
This show is such a lot of fun!
Eugene and his geeky pals (including the lovelorn, Fraggle Rock T-shirted Janey) are being bullied by the high school jocks, but Eugene is a - wait for it - EuGenius when it comes to writing comic books and he's soon whisked off to Hollywood.
Hold that clapperboard!
The arch-villain Eugene created, Evil Lord Hector, is alive, on the set and seeking revenge, having been abandoned as a baby on his home planet Itsaballoon. Can the hero, Tough Man, save the day? And will Eugene find his inner tough man, get the gal and save the world? I think you know the answer to that one, don't you?
Sounds, well, rubbish, doesn't it - but it's really not. With a bit of Rocky Horror and a bit of Grease (and rather more than a bit of Kenny Everett's almost forgotten creation Captain Kremmen) Ben Adams' and Chris Wilkins' new musical bowls along at a tremendous pace propelled by some good jokes, excellent songs and fine performances. As is the case with panto, you do have to buy in - but if you do, there's plenty to enjoy.
Liam Forde's Eugene is the calm centre of the chaos, but his singing, especially in duets with the outstanding Laura Baldwin as Janey, gives full value to some very 80s power ballads. It's a conventional love story we've seen a thousand times before, but seldom done as sweetly, nor as tunefully - against yourself, you genuinely root for them.
The rest of the cast play caricatures rather than characters - it's more fun that way! Shaun Dalton is pin-sharp in delivering an action hero actor of somewhat limited range and broad Austrian accent, and Daniel Buckley gets the best lines as Feris, Eugene's sidekick, who seems to be based on all Jim's mates from American Pie rolled into one.
For all those distractions (and that's without mentioning Melissa James's super hot, Super Hot Lady) Ian Hughes rather steals the show as Evil Lord Hector, a blue meanie with RSC vowels and more theatrical in-jokes than I could count. Bravo Sir! Bravo!
Okay, Eugenius is not the next Hamilton and it's not the next Spamalot either, but the script makes you laugh, the songs make you tap your toes as you ponder on their inspirations (I caught a bit of Flashdance, a bit of mid-80s Janet Jackson and a hint of early 90s Mariah Carey, but you'll find more I'm sure), and it's so full of bonhomie that even the heavy-handed stereotyping is excusable.
A show like this could have taken the easy route of paying big money for rights and plonking another jukebox musical on to the touring circuit, but Warwick Davis and his fellow producers refused that option and made an original, if derivative, show to the credit of all involved. So, er. Go Eugenius!