I wonder if a new genre is forming in musical theatre? Let’s call it ‘cartoon rock’ – because products like Eugenius!, Six and Knights of the Rose have little in common with the canons of Lloyd Webber, or Rodgers and Hammerstein.  But they do develop fan bases, and bring new audiences.  Six was almost entirely sold out in Edinburgh, and has garnered rave reviews on transfer to the Arts Theatre in London.  Eugenius! has ‘super-fan Sunday’ performances where it’s mayhem.

But by the conventional measures of a ‘stage musical’ almost all would fail the bar.  They don’t have much in the way of plot, the scenery is cardboard, the songs punctuate rather than advance the story line and they rely on the power of the performances, laser light, and an enthusiastically rock-driven score.

On the surface, Eugenius! is a development of the Rocky Horror/Forbidden Planet school of fiction – a geeky teenager’s comic book drawings are optioned by Hollywood and the resultant schlock movie becomes crossed with his own fantasy life.  That the ‘child dreams its own story’ motif is as old as Alice in Wonderland doesn’t matter, because the framework is entirely modern.

Nor does it matter that the alien life forms are costumed in rainbow shades of lycra, gold-sprayed bootees, and fish heads.  It’s comics, innit.  Except I do think Eugenius misses a trick in not more accurately reflecting the most modern gamer and comic genres.  A trip to Comi-Con at ExCel next month could be enlightening for the writers.

So the structure is that guaranteed musical theatre failure – a spoof of a spoof.  Except this isn’t a failure, since its audiences are enthusiastically clapping along, joining in the songs they already know, and punching the air in a finale in which the relentlessly repeated lyric is nothing more than ‘Go Eugenius, Go, who knew that shit could turn out so well?’.  I’m paraphrasing.  But not much.

Even in something deliberately designed to be a parody, there are unfortunate lapses – the Hollywood scenes and dialogue are terribly weak, and there’s inconsistency in Ian Talbot’s direction where some of the hero/villain characters don’t seem to be working from the same script which also highlights that the female characters aren’t as developed as the men.  Scott Paige‘s hilarious cameo as Theo the studio production assistant actually belongs in a much more sophisticated production.

However the band is great, making the most of Ben Adams and Chris Wilkins’ 80’s-inspired score.  Catchy, engaging, but not deafening.  Other shows could learn from this.

There is also one beautiful take-away ballad ‘Comic Book Kind of Love‘ which if it doesn’t have success as a single, will be an audition piece for drama schools probably for ever.  For me, it had echoes of ‘It’s Not All Kaboom Kapow’ from Paul James and Eric Angus’ musical The Boy Who Fell Into a Book.

After an earlier tryout, fresh casting has enhanced the show.  As the hero Eugene, Rob Houchen is not only one of the most interesting and versatile voices on the musical theatre scene, he so effectively embodies the plaid-shirt-and-backpack American geek teen that he really should be first choice for Dear Evan Hansen when it comes to London next spring.   Still convincingly playing the awkward schoolkid seven years after he emerged at the Donmar in Spelling Bee, not to mention turning 30 next year, the excellent Daniel Buckley is exactly right as Eugene’s sidekick Feris.

Not Ferris, as in Bueller, despite his affection for all teen movies?

Like musical theatre frameworks, spelling doesn’t matter any more.


until 21 October