Eugenius!, The Other Palace, London , review: The show has a rollicking spirit

Ben Adams and Chris Wilkins' new musical 'Eugenius!' premieres at The Other Palace: Pamela Raith
Ben Adams and Chris Wilkins' new musical 'Eugenius!' premieres at The Other Palace: Pamela Raith

“You already need to see it again” shouts the jokily strong-arm publicity for Eugenius!, billed as “the eunique musical”. A cynic might say that this is so you can confirm that seeing really was believing the first time round. But this amiably preposterous show, driven by a catchy Eighties-inspired score by Ben Adams and Chris Wilkins (who wrote book, music, and lyrics) disarms doubters (to some degree) by being so obviously chock-full of belief in itself. Sure, the show is not short of problems but there's nothing jaded about its high-energy combination of the tongue-in-cheek and the heart-on-sleeve. You can understand why the one-off concert-version of the piece at the Palladium last June generated good such will and created an appetite for this full staging, directed in zestfully upbeat fashion by Ian Talbot.

The leading character Eugene is a geek who spends his time creating a comic strip for an original superhero, Tough Man – catchphrase “He's tough but fair/And he has perfect hair!”. This muscle-bound prodigy travels through the Universe with his side-kick, Super Hot Lady, but there is one chink in his armour. His powers are weakened if he touches a woman. All earnest adolescent awkwardness, Liam Forde's Eugene doesn't recognise that there could be some defensive connection between life and art here, but the link isn't lost on his best chum Janey (Laura Baldwin) whose selfless romantic devotion to him goes unnoticed.

The jocks and cheerleaders who bully him at school are not best pleased when Eugene wins a competition and is catapulted to Hollywood where they want to adapt his comic strip into a fully-fledged movie. So the show has to shift between the creatures of Eugene's imagination and the actors hired to play them by the studio. And there's a sci-fi twist that gives us a third level. Tough Man has a wicked blood brother, the Evil Lord Hector, who (because of a prophecy) was sent off in lonely exile in a space ship as baby and is now roaming the galaxy in quest of his sibling on whom he plans to wreak revenge. For some reason I didn't quite grasp, this figure seems to have evolved into a real person – with chaotic results when his flying saucer touches down in Hollywood and he mistakes Gerhard, the actor who is playing Tough Man in the film, for the genuine article.

The show does a nice line in villains. Cameron Blakely oozes seedy cynicism as the white-suited Tinsel Town producer who ruins Eugene's ideas in search of a fast buck: “I feel we needed more romance and Spandex and less of the wizardy stuff”. Ian Hughes is a hoot as Evil Lord Hector, a hyper-active pip-squeak in a sort of Batman suit, deranged with dreams of zapping mayhem and malevolence. His de facto nanny, Kevin the Robot, is amusingly voiced here by Mark Hamill of Star Wars fame. A hard-working chorus play everything from the high school jocks and cheerleaders to hoofers waggling their stuff in pouty fish costumes.

Are you ready to let out your inner superhero, as Eugene himself must finally learn to do? That side of the story is not terribly well structured, but Liam Forde's voice, with its excellent falsetto, skilfully negotiates the elaborately plaintive melodic lines in those Eighties ballads. And there's nifty comic support from Daniel Buckley, Scott Paige and Shaun Dalton who all have great presence. It is a truth euniversally acknowledged that shows which pile spoof on spoof like this one tend to disappear up their own weary knowingess. This one, though, has a rollicking spirit. Whenever you start to lose patience, it plants another silly smile on your face.

Until 3 March (theotherpalace.co.uk)

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