Landing in the West End after two years of touring in Oz and Britain, “Eurobeat” is a hilarious spoof of the Eurovision Song Contest, the annual musical pageant that is as ingrained in the fabric of European pop culture as it is little-known in the U.S. Prod succeeds because it knows and reveres Eurovision, and is equally canny about Brit auds’ love-hate relationship with the songfest. Shameless with its marketing techniques (auds’ mobile phone numbers are captured during live text voting that decides the fictional contest’s winner), “Eurobeat” is a license for producer/director Glynn Nicholas to print money.
The show’s brilliantly simple premise is that we are attending a Eurovision contest in “sunny, safe, secure Sarajevo.” The production relies on the comfortably familiar rhythm of the contest, and clearly sets up the target of its parody.
Household-name U.K. comics Les Dennis and Mel Giedroyc play the Bosnian presenters Sergei and Boyka: The gag here (as in the contest) is their strained, heavily-accented attempts at hyped-up showmanship. Mangling English and trying to promote themselves at the other’s expense may be obvious comic targets, but Dennis and particularly Giedroyc hit them dead-on.
The show’s centerpiece is the songs themselves, and this is where “Eurobeat” really shines. Blessedly, the number of competing countries is whittled down considerably to a manageable 10 (this year 43 nations competed). Most songs parody a familiar type of Eurovision act: the Irish ballad with a chorus consisting solely of “La la la,” whose singer disappears into a cloud of dry ice; the ethnic number (“While I was with my lover my best ox ran away…”) performed by a busty Hungarian distaff trio in mini-lederhosen dresses; a German trio called Nepotism doing performance art accompanied by Kraftwerk-style electronica.
Even better are those songs in which a backstory is implied or a convention or assumption of the contest sent up: the ever-more-apparent distaste of the British duo Rayne and Shiner for each other as they perform the inane “I Love to Love to Love (Love)”; the throwing of every possible gimmick — from costume changes to a wind machine to a ballet interlude to enthusiastic pole dancing — into Greece’s “Aphrodite”; the campy homoeroticism of Poland’s “Together Again (for the first time),” a nod to the contest’s largely gay male fan base.
The appropriately over-the-top glitz of Richard Jeziorny and Trudy Dalgliesh’s designs creates near-sensory overload, augmented by the deafening response of audience members armed with the pre-show sale of rattles and horns. Rarely has audience participation been so effectively encouraged.
At their best, Craig Christie and Andrew Patterson’s music and lyrics and Natalie K. Marsland and Andrew Hallsworth’s choreography combine a strong knowledge of Euro-music traditions with a musical theater flair, but show overall could have been strengthened by keeping to the contest’s strict three-minute-per-song rule — some numbers overstay their welcome. Nonetheless, the triple-threat talent of the dozen performers as they switch quickly from one style and nationality to another keeps auds engaged.
As with Eurovision itself, the revelation of the votes is as much fun as the performances: “TV personalities” from each of the voting countries appear on a big screen and reveal their country’s choices. While a cliffhanger ending coming down to the last vote may have seemed implausibly dramatic, the fact that another country won earlier in the week seems to verify that each audience decides who wins that night.
Producers plan to create different “Eurobeat” versions set in different host countries, allowing them to keep references as fresh and timely as they are here. While it could never play in the States — the references would be completely left-field — the show seems set to become a European entertainment staple.