Like the id of mad doctor Prospero, Bob Carlton’s British stage musical Return to the Forbidden Planet has morphed and evolved since it first emerged in the mid-1980s. An inspired mashup of sci-fi, Shakespeare and rock ‘n’ roll, the play borrows the plot of the classic flick Forbidden Planet (itself based on Shakespeare’s Tempest), uses dialogue snatched from dozens of different Shakespeare plays, steals references from Star Trek and adds songs beamed in from the ’50s and ’60s.
Nearly 30 years later, this outrageous intergalactic dance party of a show has been updated for the Siri generation, and lands on the stage of the Novato Theater Company in a co-production by Curtain Theatre and Marin Onstage.
Directed by Carl Jordan, the play’s wackiness begins before the show starts, as the cast roam the theater distributing space-age snacks (Tang anyone?). The marvelous set by Jordan and Gary Gonser—the Enterprise-like bridge of the S.S. Starchaser—works as a kitschy assemblage of Christmas lights and lava lamps, sliding pod bay doors and an overhead screen onto which are projected a parade of images, jokes, cartoons and one very funny recurring puppet show.
After blasting off to the 1963 Surfaris tune “Wipeout,” Capt. Tempest (Phillip Percy Williams) leads the crew of the Starchaser on a routine science mission. After escaping near death in a massive meteor show (during which the crew, of course, sing “Great Balls of Fire”), they land on a mysterious planet where the marooned scientist Dr. Prospero (Paul Abbott) and his beautiful daughter Miranda (Amanda Morando, also the show’s music director) have been stranded for years, accompanied only by the doctor’s sexy, roller-skating robot Ariel (a magnificent Melissa Claire, also the show’s costume designer). What follows is a giddy concoction packed with jokes that appeal to lit majors and nerd-persons of all ages.
The large cast features a number of community theater veterans and newcomers, all working at furious fever pitch, singing and dancing up a happy, high-spirited storm (with choreography by Steve Beecroft, also the ship’s treacherous chef Cookie).
It’s all a bit loose and unfocused, yes, but if Shakespeare returned from the dead, became a Trekkie, listened to a lot of great rock music, then decided to write a play set in outer space—Return to the Forbidden Planet would be that show.
Rating (out of five): ★★★★