The 1956 sci-fi film Forbidden Planet was one of the real joys of my childhood. I saw the film several times in the theatre and later on television. I developed a stalker fascination for Robby the Robot and saw all of his subsequent films and most of his TV appearances on everything from My Little Margie to Columbo. In 1989 playwright Bob Carlton adapted the film and borrowed heavily from Shakespeare’s The Tempest to create the jukebox musical Return to the Forbidden Planet. Inexplicably the show won the Olivier Award (the British version of the Tony Award) for Best Musical 1989/1990 beating out fellow nominees BUDDY—THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY, Stephen Schwartz’s THE BAKER’S WIFE as well as MISS SAIGON. Oh those Brits! Some sense of humor!
It’s not that RTYFB is a bad show, it’s actually quite fun. But Carlton borrowed from a lot of Shakespeare’s plays for his dialogue and there is way too much of it, even when some of the puns are laugh out loud groaners. “To beep or not to beep, that is the question.” This viewer would have preferred the mumbo jumbo sci-fi jargon of the film. Carlton really pushed The Tempest plot links, renaming his mad scientist Dr. Propsero (James O’Neil), Prospero’s daughter Miranda (Kimberly Hessler), the robot Ariel (Jason Graae) and the leader of the expeditionary force Captain Tempest (Harley Jay). The plot really is inconsequential and just gets in the way of the songs. This might have been better done just as a fully costumed rock concert—Star Trek Rocks in Space.
The cast all possess great rock voices and really sing full out in every number. The older matinee audience at the performance I viewed was really grooving to the songs of their youth. The 1960s really did rock. James O’Neil (who spent years as Pilate in the Ted Neeley fronted tour of Jesus Christ Superstar) let his gravelly voice rock out in “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.” In one of the show’s quieter moments, Jason Graae channeled his inner Connie Francis for “Who’s Sorry Now?,” even working in his signature oboe solo. Graae’s robotic hijinks delivered the laughs as he at times skated around the multi-level set (an amazing creation by Thomas S. Giamario who also did the wild lighting effects). Rebecca Ann Johnson rocked out with “Gloria” among other songs. Kimberly Hessler was charming as the shy but intrepid Miranda and did a lovely job with “A Teenager in Love?” Caleb Horst as the love struck Cookie did the always fun “The Shoop Shoop Song.” Harley Jay’s stellar voice soared with ‘It’s a Man’s World” and “Great Balls of Fire” among others. Trevor Wheetman did a great job as Musical Director and leading the on stage band of ensigns (Craig McEldowney, Omar D. Brancato, Matt Tucci along with Jay). The Flight Crew (Jesse Graham, Madeline Gambon, Stephen Russell and Lucy Willhite) joined in with background vocals and also, after safely attaching their tether lines, did some Sixties style dancing a la Shindig and Hullabaloo. Kirby Ward choreographed the madness as well as directing and the show provides a quick two hour romp into the rockasphere. Jonathan Burke designed the great sound mix.
Rubicon Theatre Company, 1006 E. Main St. in Ventura. Ends Nov. 13. 805-667-2900.