The second British musical about superheroes to open this month, after Bananaman at Southwark Playhouse, Eugenius has the same fond mockery, super silliness and tight spandex – and some of the same problems too.
Written by Ben Adams, who was in 1990s boyband A1, and Chris Wilkins the show, which had a one-off concert performance at London’s Palladium in 2016, has voice cameos from Brian Blessed and Mark Hamill, and Warwick Davis as producer, so there’s some serious sci-fi clout behind it. But in riding the Stranger Things 1980s nostalgia wave it often feels like just a list of name-drops from Alien to Zoltar.
Following teenager Eugene whose comic book creation Tough Man is turned into a Hollywood film, the show digs into comic book stereotypes of buff white men saving the day and winning the scantily clad women. It’s framed as Eugene’s horny adolescent fantasy but the show doesn’t quite satirise that enough to justify it. And Ian Talbot’s direction, on Hannah Wolfe’s cramped three-tiered set, is a bit awkward.
On the other hand, it’s impossible to stop humming the astonishingly catchy soundtrack, all synth-heavy pastiches of 1980s power ballads. And there are really heroic performances all round, from weedy, gawky Eugene geeked up to the nines by Liam Forde, Daniel Buckley as his uninhibited comic sidekick Feris and Laura Baldwin as his loving and strait laced friend Janey.
It’s not perfect. It’s trying way too hard to be both cool and geeky at the same time, its gender politics are surprisingly backwards and there are way too many crass jokes about masturbation and bodily functions but – and it’s a significant but – the score is fantastic. That, plus the intense 1980s nostalgia drive may well be enough to sustain the show.