Some scholars argue that Shakespeare invented western literature. Others have argued that no one playwright could have written so much, so well, in so many different genre. Comedy, Tragedy, History, Romance, Poetry, Prose. As many theatre companies in the Elizabethan era had several members writing plays, alone or in collaboration, Shakespeare’s name may have become attached to those plays we now publish in The Complete Works of Shakespeare. As some of these plays disappeared or had no recorded productions during Shakespeare’s lifetime, only to be recovered in the 18th and 19th century, others scholars have suggested that subsequent playwrights used his notoriety to get their own works produced.
The Tempest, the last play fully attributed to Shakespeare in 1611, is one of our beloved romance plays today. After a brief run for King James I, it was hacked up by other playwrights for 17th century audiences. Over a hundred years later, the renowned actor David Garrick put the script back together in the form we know. Since, The Tempest has spun off various contemporary plays and movies, including The Forbidden Planet, a 1956 sci-fi version of the stranded magician and his daughter. In 1985, Bob Carlton set up a tent in London to premier his musical send-up Return to the Forbidden Planet. Buckle up and practice Reverse Polarity, for the starship is traveling there again with the Blackfiar Theatre’s production. Shakespeare, or whichever collaborators dreamed up the dreamy Tempest, would be all over this. The house was full, and Shakespeare always liked a hit!
Prospero (Rene Thorton, Jr.) is a goggle-eyed scientist who was set a drift in a star craft by his Science Officer wife, Gloria (lee Fitzpatrick). Their daughter, Miranda (Emily Brown) was on the craft. Prospero and Miranda have been living their lives on The Forbidden Planet. Prospero tinkers with mind-altering chemical combinations, while Miranda is just A Teenager in Love (with whatever catches her eye).
Captain Tempest (Dlyan Paul) combines Captain Kirk from Star Trek with Martha Gramah’s modern dance and John Travolta’s strutting to try to keep the starship staying alive. He is so good at doing spot-on satirical gestures that the worse he gets, the more we laugh. As with every Star Trek episode, the Captain becomes the love interest of every female on the ship and beamed aboard. Of course, Miranda is bound to oogle Captain Fancy Pants.
This where Cookie (Gregory Jon Phelps), the ship’s chef, comes in as the Only-the-Lonely alternative love interest. When the Captain is not around to kiss, any ship’s chef will do for romance. Of course, Cookie takes his love seriously, while Miranda would, and does, hug a post when no male counterpart is available. Goodness! Gracious! Great Balls of Fire!
After we, the audience, prepare for lift-off and practice our Reverse Polarity drill, the crew starts with their nearly non-stop review of standards, doo-ops, rock-in-roll, ballads, surf-music, all the way up to 80’s techno-pop tunes. Chris Johnston revs of the starships engines with his melding of Paul McCartney, Robert Daltry, Keith Richards, Earl Scruggs, and Sid Viscous with our lift-off tune, Wipe-Out, on banjo. Other cast members will join in with guitar, acoustic bass, drums, piano, cello, trombone, trumpet, clarinets, tambourine, xylophone, and etch-a-sketch throughout our journey. If you watch carefully, other than Chris’ banjo plucking, most of the cast member switch off between instruments as often as Miranda and the Captain flit and flirt between their counterpoints.
Just as in The Tempest, the ship will be caught in a storm (a.k.a. tractor beam), and pulled toward The Forbidden Planet, by Prospero’s magic. He uses Ariel (John Harell) to conjure this trip. In this case, rather than an invisible flying spirit, Ariel is a roller skating robot. Starlight Express anyone? Ariel can perform all sorts of functions beyond human capacity, such as using his radar scanning equipment to pick up Good Vibrations. Okay, we are back to that heart-throb between The Captain and Miranda, but so were the Beach Boys.
Something else lurks in the script, as the Science Officer skipped out on a shuttle craft just as the tractor beam began to direct the starship off course. Mid-way into the play, we will verify through Ariel’s reconnaissance that the Science Officer is also Gloria, Prospero’s vengeful wife. Make that G-L-O-R-I-A strutting her way center stage to put the starship back on course. She will stir up Cookie’s dough, get her daughter and the Captain to boogie, declare her unrequited love for Prospero, while depriving him of his magic X-Factor drugs, and vanquishing and vanishing the Forbidden Planet back to his imagination.
As we warp into space again, we can sing along with Miranda and the cast to Hey, Mr. Spaceman… Won’t you please take me along, I won’t do anything wrong. Hey Mr. Spaceman, Won’t you please take me along for a ride. Who needs X-Factor to alter one’s mind with a show like this.
P.S. Along with the Name-That-Tune, Carlton has peppered the script with Shakespeare quotes borrowed from his well-known and obscure plays. In fact, so much of the prose and poetry in the lines is Shakespeare, that we could say that Return to the Forbidden Planet was written by Shakespeare, sort of.