Eurobeat - the Eurovision parody heralded as the “world’s first interactive musical”, opened on Tuesday at the Novello theatre (9 September 2008, previews from 4 September), cheered on by an audience including former Eurovision contestants Cheryl Baker and Frances Ruffelle (See 1st Night Photos, 9 Sep 2008).
Eurobeat - Winning Is Everything assigns audience members to one of ten competing countries and, as with the real Eurovision, invites them to vote for their favourite contestants via text message, with a nightly winner announced at the end of the performance. There’s also a video introduction by Terry Wogan, and plenty of flag-waving, horn-blowing, clacker-slapping and cheering.
The show proved a popular hit at the 2007 Edinburgh Fringe, before embarking on a national tour. Set in Sarajevo, Eurobeat is hosted by the eccentric duo of children’s TV presenter Sergei (played by Les Dennis) and Boyka (Mel Giedroyc, of Mel & Sue), a former Olympic pole-vaulting champion, lifestyle programme hostess and cabaret performer.
It is written by Aussies Andrew Patterson and Craig Christie, produced and directed by Glynn Nicholas, designed by Richard Jeziorny and choreographed by Natalie K Marsland and Andrew Hallsworth. In addition to Dennis and Giedroyc, the company includes Sarah Boulton, Emma Brooke, Sarah Cahalarn, Emma Cannon, Adam Charles-Hills, Mairi Cowieson, Scott Garnham, Lewis Griffiths, Natasha Jayetileke, Arvid Larsen, Kay Murphy, Craig Perry, Sergio Priftis and Carl Stallwood.
“Funnier than the real thing” was the consensus of most overnight critics, who left any traces of cultural snobbery at the door to embrace the “hilariously camp” and “exuberantly enjoyable” show. There was the odd dissenter, with Nicholas de Jongh of the Evening Standard labelling the experience “torture” and comparing it to the Nazi rallies at Nuremberg. However, these minor criticisms aside, there was lavish praise for the performances of “alarmingly bewigged” Les Dennis and the “compellingly bizarre” Mel Giedroyc. And despite recognising the evening to be as “culturally significant as Dustin the Turkey”, Eurobeat’s “unpretentious” sense of fun led to more critical thumbs-up than ‘nul points’.
Michael Coveney on Whatsonstage.com (four stars) – “Eurobeat, billed as possibly the West End’s first interactive trash hit … manages to combine cheap laughs and cheap music in a joyous theatrical combustion … Iceland’s entry was a terrifying Bjork-style love ballad performed by a former exotic dancer in a barrel-shaped tunic of dyed chicken feathers, while Ronan Corr for Ireland – apparently detached from the rest of his family songbirds – cut loose in a squelchy, melodic chorus of ‘La La La’ which deservedly won the contest on the night for its total lack of originality … Glynn Nicholas’s production, gloriously glib and tastelessly choreographed (that’s a compliment) by Natalie K Marsland and Andrew Hallsworth, is expertly compered by the inspirationally cast duo of Les Dennis … and Mel Giedroyc … who has thoughtfully incorporated facets of Bet Lynch and Nancy Dell’Olio into her turn of fake Eastern European promise. The whole show’s better, tackier and funnier than the real thing ... who’d have thought it possible?”
Charles Spencer in the Telegraph – “You might plausibly argue that to parody the Eurovision Song Contest is pointless, since the real thing does the job so well itself, but somehow Eurobeat works. The needling relationship between the two presenters, the brilliantly accurate pastiche of various naff pop idioms, and the audience participation, in which you vote for your favourite song via text message, prove an almost continuous pleasure … the choreography by Natalie K Marsland and Andrew Hallsworth combines the naff and the filthily suggestive to hilariously camp effect. It doesn\'t all work. The British entry is dismayingly anodyne (but then so has the real thing been for years too numerous to recall). The send-up of Abba proves a damp squib, and there is nothing here quite as bizarre as those recent real-life winners Lordi, the monster-masked heavy metallers from Finland. But for most of its length, Eurobeat hits its target bang on, and Glynn Nicholas\'s production proves the most exuberantly enjoyable musical to have opened in the West End since Hairspray.”
Simon Edge in the Daily Express (four stars) – “The Eurovision Song Contest has not been the same since the admission of previously unheard of countries with more goats than people, bent on giving nul points to the nogoodnik Western nations that devised the competition in the first place. Fortunately salvation is at hand with a stage show that manages to unite smartness and wit with the cheesy self-parody of Eurovision, proving you can be inventive and crowd-pleasing in one spangled leg-kick … It could be a disaster-in-Spandex, but Christie\'s knowing script and Glynn Nicholas’s exuberant direction send up and embrace the real event in equal measure … Mel Giedroyc and Les Dennis are perfectly pitched as the Bosnian presenting duo … But the meat of the show is the songs themselves … With a hugely energetic company throwing themselves into numbers that - however ridiculous - are often better than the genuine efforts they are satirising, it’s a joyous festival of innuendo, sight gags and musical mickey-taking.”
Nicholas de Jongh in the Evening Standard (one star) – “The scenes at Eurobeat’s premiere would hardly have been out of place at Hitler’s Youth Rally at Nuremberg in 1936: Last night’s clap-along audience kept succumbing to flag-waving ecstasy, revelled in light shows and remained stuck on a jubilant high … Andrew Patterson and Craig Christie, who wrote the book, the awesomely dreadful music and lyrics, attempt to make a Europhobic mockery of foreign stereotypes and several famous singers. They create a wit and humour-free area with lyrics and music that puts the tosh into pastiche … Some singing chaps strip down to spandex or even the odd six-pack and swollen biceps for Eurovision’s gay aficionados … What a hackneyed notion it is that foreign singers are funny because they cannot speak proper English and that Eurovision songs invariably sink to the lower depths of stupidity. People who adore Eurovision may well be pleasured and were at the first night. For the rest of us the sight and sound of Eurobeat is cruel and unusual treatment, in other words torture.”
Alice Jones in the Independent (four stars) – “There are not many – any? – West End shows where you are greeted at the door by ushers in glittery cowboy hats who press badges and flags into your hands … But then Eurobeat isn\'t strictly a show – it\'s a competition. … The whole shebang is hosted by competitive limelight-seekers Sergei (Les Dennis) and Boyka (Mel Giedroyc). Dennis, in a Wogan-esque toupee and shiny suit, delivers the bizarre country fact-files in a convincingly nonplussed manner, giving proceedings just the right amount of seediness and innuendo. But it is Giedroyc as Boyka, the former Olympic pole-vaulting champion, who steals the show with a procession of hideous frocks … Craig Christie\'s and Andrew Patterson\'s songs are pitch-perfect in their ear-splitting Eurovision penchant for mixing unlikely musical styles … Some of the routines are too silly and a good few of the jokes fall flat. And, just like the real thing, the voting goes on a bit too long (unlike the real thing, though, it\'s entirely unpredictable). But the energy levels rarely dip and I can\'t remember laughing this much (or ever making quite so much noise) in a theatre.”
Sam Marlowe in The Times (three stars) – “Described by Terry Wogan, who makes a guest appearance on video, as a \'glorious homage\' to the real song contest, Eurobeat is both a kitsch and canny send-up and a tack-encrusted love letter to the varied and sometimes sick-making musical smorgasbord … The current West End version is overamplified and about as culturally significant as Dustin the Turkey, but it’s also well-honed, sharp-eyed and slickly performed … The location is Sarajevo and our perma-grinning, glittery and alarmingly bewigged hosts are Boyka (Mel Giedroyc) and Sergei (Les Dennis). The multilingual Boyka has an unnerving habit of bursting into shrill laughter and flapping her jaw like a ventriloquist’s dummy. As Sergei, Dennis has peculiarly dead eyes, which may or may not be part of his shtick. Anyway, they make a compellingly bizarre pair, genially supplying interact links scattered with malapropisms and innuendo. The contestants themselves, though, are the real treat … This show is entirely pointless, but its OTT energy and shameless silliness are oddly seductive. Forget high culture; this is high camp, and in its own unpretentious way it’s a winner.”
- by Theo Bosanquet