Sunday 26 March 2023

Stage: Aim higher than the stars

book, music & lyrics by Ben Adams & Chris Wilkins
with Elliott Evans, Jaina Brock-Patel, James Hameed, Dominic Andersen, Joseph Beach, Laura Denning, Madison Firth, Rhys Taylor, Naomi Alade, Louis Doran, Sebastian Harwood
dir Hannah Chissick
set & lighting Andrew Exeter
musical director Nick Punchbeck
choreographer Aaron Renfree
Turbine Theatre, Battersea • 17.Mar-28.May.23

A buoyant, big-hearted musical with a relentlessly positive message, this show is flooded with 1980s movie references and big power ballads. Written by Ben Adams and Chris Wilkins, it's fast, silly and also rather random in its childish approach, which has no edge to it at all, shying away from anything remotely dark or sexy. Even so, it's so much fun that you may find yourself pumping a fist triumphantly in the air at the end.

Opening in Toledo, Ohio, this is the story of the geeky Eugene (Evans) and his best pals, the brainy Janey (Brock-Patel) and the goofy Feris (Hameed), who enjoy acting out Eugene's riotous comic books about Tough Man, his sidekick Super Hot Lady and evil nemesis Lord Hector. When a Hollywood studio runs a competition for a new idea, Janey submits Eugene's work, and the movie quickly goes into production with a muscle-man German actor (Andersen) as Tough Man and an ambitious actress (Firth) as Super Hot Lady. The problem is that the real Hector (Beach) turns up on set from outer space, intent on mass destruction.

A remarkably big show on a small stage, the energy levels are very high through a series of lavishly choreographed musical numbers (energetic big-hair rock with some disco flourishes) and slapstick action sequences that often spread out into the audience. Catchy choruses abound, even if some of the phrasing is a little clumsy (such as the No Pants Dance or the romantic theme Comic Book Kind of Love). While costumes, effects and the use of video screens is superb, the stage set is distractingly busy. And the plot is equally messy, with spiralling story threads and a strong follow-your-dreams message that gets lost in the rush to a romcom climax. 

Even so, all of this is thoroughly engaging thanks to a cast that's fully committed to the mayhem. As Eugene, Evans has a terrific stage presence and a great voice that soars to the rafters, even if the character gets a bit lost in the chaos of the second act. Oddly, both Hameed's amusing Feris and Brock-Patel's sparky Janey are slightly simplistic. But Denning is uproarious as the Weinstein-like studio boss, while Taylor camps it up superbly as her assistant. His green screen gag is the show's funniest sequence. And the top scene-stealer is Beach, who improvises hilarious asides as the snarling Hector. 

Everyone on stage adds soulful touches to their characters, and they also dive fully into the dance numbers, raising the roof in several rousing moments. So in the end, the audience leaves the theatre empowered to embrace our inner geek and to shoot higher than the stars. We also have a big smile on our faces, and it's unclear when we might stop humming the big final number, Go Eugenius!

For information, visit TURBINE THEATRE >

photos by Pamela Raith • 25.Mar.23

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