Monday, July 1, 2013

Return To The Forbidden Planet at The American Shakespeare Center

Welcome aboard the Intergalactic Spaceship Albatross. Captain Tempest and the Damage Control Crew invite you to accompany them on a routine survey mission. Who is the mysterious, yet strong as nails new Science Officer? Why does she abandon the crew at the first sign of trouble? Can Bosun Arras (all around good guy), the Navigation Officer (knows where they are going) and Cookie the lovelorn ship's cook help Captain Tempest as their ship hurtles towards the mysterious Planet D'lliria? What of the long-lost scientist Dr. Prospero missing for years after his wife Gloria sent him into hyperspace not knowing their precocious baby daughter Miranda was stuck on board the shuttlecraft? Will the Albatross survive the asteroid field and the strange creatures that threaten the ship? Will Dr. Prospero succeed in creating the world-changing secret formula he's strived to perfect for the past several years? Will Captain Tempest resist the charms of the nubile Miranda? Will Cookie fight the Captain for Miranda's love? Is the Damage Control Crew the greatest rock and roll band in the history of Staunton, Virginia? For answers to these questions rush right down to the American Shakespeare Center where rock and roll has taken over the Blackfriars' Playhouse.

Return to the Forbidden Planet, written by Bob Carlton, takes the classic 1956 science fiction film, Forbidden Planet, loosely based on William Shakespeare's The Tempest, adds dialogue from several of Shakespeare's plays and sonnets (and a bit of Christopher Marlowe sprinkled on top), then throws in a jukebox full of 50's and 60's rock and roll classics to create a really fun evening that will leave your ribs aching from laughing, your hands sore from clapping along and a smile that comes from seeing a show that just exists to give you a great time. The plot is very silly and the talented repertory company is clearing enjoying embracing their over-the-top characters, letting their hair down and having a blast showing off their vast musical skills.

If you are familiar with how the American Shakespeare Center stages Shakespeare plays you will know that members of the company are talented musicians and singers who perform music before each performance and during the intermission. Music Director Chris Johnston has taken the twelve actors and made a great acoustic rock and roll band out of them. They all get their moments to shine musically and what a breath of fresh air to attend professional musical theater and not have the actors miked so they can be heard over the music. By choosing to go acoustic Mr. Johnston and Artistic Director Jim Warren create a balance between the instruments and the voices that makes the audience engage more closely with the actors.

Every character is perfectly cast. Dylan Paul is handsome and dashing as Captain Tempest, although its very clear to the audience that he's really, well, not too bright (it's a good thing he's pretty). He's well matched by his leading lady the sweet teenager-in-love Emily Brown as Miranda. Her protective father, the brilliant mad scientist played by Rene Thornton, Jr. shows that he's perfectly comfortable taking the lead on one his  rock numbers.

It takes a special person to don the faithful robot Ariel's very shiny skates and John Harrell comes very close to stealing the show just with his first entrance. Lee Fitzpatrick as the mysterious Science Officer plays buttoned-up and no-nonsense sensibility, just as a highly qualified scientist should.  Ms. Fitzpatrick lets her hair down joining in the rock-and-roll madness once her character's secrets are revealed. The real scene stealer is Gregory Jon Phelps as the lovelorn Cookie. Tormented by unrequited love, Mr. Phelps delivers his heart not on his sleeve, but with his mad saxophone skills. Many a young lady in the audience could be heard sighing every time Cookie gets his heart broken.

Jim Warren clearly had fun directing this show and with the help of the aforementioned Mr. Johnston's music direction, Stephanie Holladay Earl's classic rock dance choreography and Erin M. West's mod space uniforms, the American Shakespeare Center is transformed into a rock-and-roll palace. If you are looking for Shakespeare with a twist, Return to the Forbidden Planet is Shakespeare as a malt shop sundae with your sweetheart after school.

Bob Carlton's Return to the Forbidden Planet is being performed in repertory as part of the 25th anniversary summer season at the American Shakespeare Center with William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet and Alls Well That Ends Well through December 1, 2013. In September Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida and Oliver Goldsmith's She Stoops To Conquer will join these shows in repertory. For tickets and other performance information please visit

Parental advisory: Return to the Forbidden Planet contains very little that parents would find objectionable. There is, however, one utterance of a common four-letter word as part of a joke and it is briefly repeated.

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