In 2014, Manny Fernandes directed the well-received summer production of The Full Monty at New Village Arts Theatre. Fast forward one year, and he’s back as William Shakespeare’s Prospero in the science fiction jukebox musical Return to the Forbidden Planet.
Loosely based on The Bard’s beloved swan song and the 1956 film, “Forbidden Planet,” Captain Tempest (David S. Humphrey) leads the crew of a routine survey flight, Intergalactic Space Flight 9 (Natalie Khuen’s set pays tribute to “Star Trek”). While on a mission, they are pulled towards a planet, D’lllyria. Once the captain and crewmembers Cookie (Charlie Gange), Bosun (Brian Butler), navigation officer (Morgan Carberry) and science officer (Marlene Montes) land, they encounter the mad scientist, Prospero. Chaos ensues when a deadly monster attacks the group.
Bob Carlton’s script is meant to be a sendup of Shakespeare combined with science fiction entertainment primarily from the 1950s and ‘60s. The humor mostly comes from recognizing lines to Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar and King Lear. Jokes are also based on references to “Star Wars,” “Godzilla” and other movies featured on Blake McCarty’s projections. Carlton’s humor is not organic and instead fueled more by nostalgia. Unfortunately, many punchlines do not work because of this issue.
Return to the Forbidden Planet can be hard to follow, especially when trying to explain Prospero’s intentions. As hard as Fernandes tries in the spoken scenes, even he cannot disguise the fact that Carlton’s dialogue is often convoluted and revolves around extensive exposition.
Other performers do not have it much better. Derouin, Montes and Gange portray characters with little development. The one exception for the major roles is Humphrey, who channels his inner Captain Kirk, although he is a significantly better singer and dancer than William Shatner. Humphrey elevates the evening with his dramatic voice, sensitive singing, comedic chops and rhythmic dancing.
In smaller parts, Brian Butler and Kevane La’Marr Coleman (wearing an impressive robotic costume from Danita Lee) make the most of their material as the loyal first mate, Bosun, and Prospero’s roller skating automaton, Ariel. Their committed line readings on even the corniest zingers delivers some chuckles.
If the jokes do not always deliver and the tale does not make much sense, why would audience members want to check out Return to the Forbidden Planet? The answer is to listen to lively popular songs featured throughout the evening.
The musical numbers play to director, Jon Lorenz’s strengths. He co-created the ‘80s influenced jukebox San Diego hit, Mixtape, and he once again shows affection for days of yore. The playlist opens with “Wipe Out,” “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” and “Great Balls of Fire.”
The artists are not always used to their advantage, yet they give animated renditions of the well-known melodies. Fernandes’s cryptic “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” Derouin’s charmingly wistful “A Teenager in Love” and Humphrey’s forceful “Young Girl” are a couple of the strongest solo numbers.
Working overtime is Garrett Wysocki whose audio seamlessly mixes space odyssey sound effects with effortlessly produced prerecorded music under Justin Gray’s musical direction. He goes above and beyond with not only the music selections, but also incorporates dance remixes of the “Star Trek: The Next Generation” theme song and the motif from “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”
The only live musician is Gange as the lead guitarist. Perhaps his best moment is early on when he communicates with the other crewmembers via his guitar. Gange’s instrumental solo on “She’s Not There” adds emotional fury during the downbeat single.
Chris Renda’s lighting strengthens the overtly melodramatic tone with occasional dark red and green coloring. His choices add to the visual appeal.
Patrons should not leave during the long climax until the curtain call is completed. While the conclusion adds extra conflicts for no apparent reason, some of the best tunes are saved for the very end with the entire cast dancing enthusiastically to Colleen Kollar Smith’s choreography.
Those expecting an easy to digest plot or hysterical gags might be underwhelmed with the overall experience. Yet, theatregoers attending for the retro music will leave energetically charged.