Saturday, June 21, 2014

Over the moon: Review of Return to Forbidden Planet

Jobsite and Straz’s Return to Forbidden Planet is a blast.

Posted By on Sat, Jun 21, 2014 at 9:50 AM

LOVING THE ALIEN: Maggie Mularz as the Navigation Officer. - CRAWFORD LONG
  • LOVING THE ALIEN: Maggie Mularz as the Navigation Officer.

There are several reasons why Return to the Forbidden Planet, a co-production of Jobsite Theater and the Straz Center, is such a grand success. Still, four of them stand out. To wit:

The Joy of Local Talent.
If you’ve been a theatergoer in the Bay area over the last 10 years or so, you’ve seen Jonathan Harrison, Heather Krueger, Amy E. Gray and the other actors in this confection on many occasions. But in Planet, these familiar performers are at the top of their game, letting loose, hamming it up, putting a Brechtian spin on every line of dialogue and song, celebrating in their exuberance not only the silly musical they’re in but also the fact of their own professionalism. Harrison used to be a regular on the Straz’s Jaeb stage, and it’s wonderful to see him return to lead this troupe as the Captain Kirk figure Captain Tempest. 
As Tempest’s cook and rival, Spencer Meyers continues to defy all conventional wisdom about stardom, instantly grabbing our attention with his uninhibited comic acting, and delighting us immeasurably with his hyper-vivid vocalizing. Krueger, as a spaceship’s Science Officer who’s also the nefarious Gloria, kicks up a storm with her brash energy, and J. Elijah Cho, about whom I’ve had reservations in past shows, is nothing short of perfect as the Bosun Arras, direct heir of all those space assistant/underlings from 20th-century science-fiction movies. The other actors — Gray, Maggie Mularz, Owen Robertson, and Jaime Giangrande-Holcom — have so much fun during this show’s two acts, we can’t help but laugh with them, and longtime Jobsite scenarist Brian Smallheer’s fabulous set, of a ’50s idea of a spaceship interior, is the most pleasing he’s ever designed. Katrina Stevenson’s costumes are impeccable, and David Jenkins’ directing is so intelligent, you can’t help but wonder what he’d be capable of if he weren’t so often working in the small Shimberg space. In short: This ensemble is thrillingly good. And they all live next door!

click to enlarge DYNAMIC DUO: Jonathan Harrison as Captain Tempest and Amy Gray as Miranda. - CRAWFORD LONG
  • DYNAMIC DUO: Jonathan Harrison as Captain Tempest and Amy Gray as Miranda.

The Joy of Golden Oldies.
Let’s admit it: Certain songs from the ’50s and ’60s will be forever on our radios, on our iPods, and in our minds. So it’s cheering and charming to find our science-fiction characters singing “Great Balls of Fire,” “Good Vibrations,” “A Teenager in Love” and “Shakin’ All Over,” as if these and a dozen other oldies could better than any more contemporary songs provide the accompaniment to Forbidden Planet’s warped narrative. The not-so-secret subtext here is that Planet is as much a cabaret as a standard musical, one that offers not just a nod to science-fiction movies and TV shows but also to immortals like Roy Orbison, The Byrds, the Animals and The Zombies. And anyway, why shouldn’t “Great Balls of Fire” describe a storm of asteroids? And who’s to say that Van Morrison wasn’t writing, with “Gloria,” about an outer-space feminist outlaw? I’m not exactly sure what “The Monster Mash” has to do with this sci-fi adventure, but hey, it’s great to hear again. And the four-piece rock band — Woody Bond, drums; Jana Jones, bass; Mark Warren, guitar, and Parker Wilkson, keys/synth; led by Music Director Jones — that plays behind it all couldn’t be any more electrifying.

The Joy of Shakespeare. Bob Carlton, who wrote the book of Forbidden Planet, is a Bardolater whose bright idea was to make his sci-fi adventure a refreshingly irreverent tribute to The Tempest, first and foremost, but also to Hamlet, King Lear, Macbeth, Twelfth Night and a bunch of other Shakespeare plays, all quoted and misquoted with abandon. So Dr. Prospero, an evil space genius, loses daughter Miranda to Captain Tempest, all while hardy Shakespeare is travestied with lines like “Two beeps? Or not two beeps? That is the question,” and, from the Sonnets, “Shall I compare thee to a Barbie doll?” If you love the Bard of Avon, you’ll have great fun trying to catch all the quickly moving citations from “the quality of mercy is not strained” to “I’ll be revenged on the whole pack of you.” And you may even realize, in the Elizabethan rush of things, that good old Shakespeare gave us more than a few Golden Oldies of his own.

The Joy of Science-Fiction. After decades of sci-fi classics from the original film Forbidden Planet to Twilight Zone, Outer Limits, Star Trek, and Star Wars, it’s bliss to see certain tropes inflated and punctured by this author and these actors. Like Shakespeare, like Van Morrison, sci-fi is forever. Return to Forbidden Planet is also a return to our childhood, lived on Mars and on The Enterprise.

Final word: Planet is great fun. Come and join the celebration.

And don’t ever beam us up, Scotty. 

Thursday, July 3, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, July 5, at 4 and 8 p.m.; Sunday, July 6, at 4 and 7:30 p.m. Regularly priced tickets are $29.50. For the newly added performance on Sunday, July 6, at 7:30 p.m., save $10 using the promo code ASTEROID. Tickets may be purchased by calling 813-229-STAR (7827) or 800-955-1045 outside Tampa Bay, in person at the Straz Center Ticket Office or online at

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