Shakespeare meets 1950s sci-fi meets ‘50s/‘60s rock ‘n’ pop in Bob Carlton’s outta sight outer space musical spoof Return To The Forbidden Planet, the latest from Rubicon Theatre and as fun an evening as you’re likely to have up Ventura way, or just about anywhere else for that matter.
Loosely based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Forbidden Planet starred Walter Pidgeon as a 23rd-century scientist marooned with his nymphet daughter on a distant planet, with a very young Leslie Nielsen as the astronaut charged with their rescue.
Not only that, Carlton’s book borrows liberally from Shakespeare, spaceship captain Tempest dismissing the ship’s female Science Officer with an iambic pentametered “Yond’ woman has a mean and hungry look. She thinks too much,” his insistence that “This is a man’s world” met with the musical comeback, “But it wouldn’t be nothing without a woman on earth.”
If this last line sounds more like James Brown than William Shakes, it turns out to be merely the first instance of Return To The Forbidden Planet’s clever insertion of one mid-20th-century Top 40 smash after another into its storyline, among them “Good Vibrations, “The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s in His Kiss),” “A Teenager In Love,” and (appropriately for Halloween season) “Monster Mash,” all of this a full decade before Mamma Mia! found similar ways to propel plot with a Broadway showful of already well-known hits.
Rubicon’s Return To The Forbidden Planet stars Harley Jay as Captain Tempest, for whom the sudden arrival aboard spaceship of mad scientist Prospero (James O’Neill) and his curvaceous young daughter Miranda (Kimberly Hessler) has cutiepie ship’s cook Cookie (Caleb Horst) vying with the studly captain for nubile Miranda’s affections, though age disparity prompts Tempest to take a page from Gary Puckett and order this “Young Girl” out of his mind, his love for her being “way out of line.”
Also figuring in the action are the ship’s Scottish Bosun (Craig McEldowney) and its Navigation Officer (Martin Landry), evoking memories of Starship Enterprise’s Scotty and Spock, with multi-talented Jesse Graham, Madeline Gambon, Stephen Russell, and Lucy Willhite popping in as flight crew members from time to time.
Last but definitely not least are sultry Science Officer Gloria (Rebecca Ann Johnson), whose connection with Prospero and Miranda may be thicker than water, and Robot Extraordinaire Ariel (Jason Graae), whose body may be stainless steel but whose heart proves as good as gold.
Borrowing from its dual sources, Return To The Forbidden Planet gives Prospero the gift of creating matter from deep within the Id through use of Telegenesis, a power that backfires to Little Shop Of Horrors proportions when overdosed on X Factor, or something to that order.
If all this sounds more than a bit silly, it is, but in the best of ways, and whether you are a sci-fi buff (or don’t know Star Trek from Star Wars from Star Jones) or grew up listening to The Beach Boys, The Animals, and The Moody Blues (or think of the ‘50s and ‘60s as your grandparents’ bygone era), there’s something in Return To The Forbidden Planet to entertain audiences of any age.
Director-choreographer Kirby Ward coaxes one terrific performance after another from an all-around groovy cast of triple-threat performers whose Shindiggy ‘60s moves would do the Hullabaloo dancers proud.
Jay makes for a charismatic Captain, Hessler proves a charmer as Miranda, and Horst gives Cookie plenty of boy-next-door spunk, and all three sing with rock/pop star pipes. Graae couldn’t be more adorable quirky as Ariel, while red-headed stunner Johnson’s big-haired, big-voiced G-L-O-R-I-A burns up the stage.
Ship’s ensigns Omar D. Brancato, Matt Tucci, and (musical director) Trevor Wheetman, along with associate musical director Landry (delightfully Spockian), Jay, and McEndowney (a Scottish-brogued treat as Bosum) make up Return To The Forbidden Planet’s rocktastic live onstage band.
Scenic designer Thomas S. Giamaro has created a spacecraft interior straight out of ’50 sci-fi fantasies, with special snaps due its air-lock door, tubular elevator, and humungous green tentacles thrown in for shock-and-chuckles effect.
Pamela Shaw’s costumes, T. Theresa Scaranos’s props, and Tiffany Baker’s hair and makeup are all futuristic gems seen through a 1950s lens.
Giamaro’s vivid lighting, Jonathan Burke’s crystal-clear sound design, and Dillon G. Artzer’s far-out video design, featuring a droll, pre-recorded Fred Willard as narrator, are all terrific too.
Beverly Ward is associate director. Jessie Vacchiano is production stage manager and Kristin M. Herrick is assistant stage manager. Christina M. Burck is production manager and David King is technical director.
To past Rubicon musical theater delights like My Fair Lady, Daddy Long Legs, and Fiddler On The Roof (to name just three) can now be added Return To The Forbidden Planet. Arriving just in time for Halloween, it is quite simply the Have-Fun Musical Of The Season.
Rubicon Theatre, 1006 E. Main Street, Ventura.
October 29, 2106
Photos: Ronnie Slavin