By Sue Merrell
Great Balls of Fire! The small cast of Hope Summer Repertory Theatre’s “Return to the Forbidden Planet” has so much energy that the stage actually seems to vibrate like a rocket. Add in the enthusiastic input of about 450 audience members who willingly pounded their craniums to “reverse polarity” at Friday’s opening night performance, and you’ve got blast off.
As director Fabio Polanco points out in his director’s notes, “Return to the Forbidden Planet” probably is the only show that ever tried to combine Shakespeare, Sci-Fi and ’60s rock ‘n’ roll into one tumultuous script. And Bob Carlton’s 1989 show is a bit of a jolt as it careens through the asteroid field of Shakespearean syntax flinging “whither” and “doest” and navigates the black hole of “The Shoop Shoop Song” and “She’s Not There.” But the spunky cast of the HSRT space ship has plenty of attitude to see us through.
“Return to the Forbidden Planet” is loosely based on Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” in a time warp. Instead of Shakespeare’s shipwreck on the island of D’Illyria, our spaceship is pulled into the planet D’Illyria where the wily Doctor Prospero (Robert Thompson Jr.) and his comely daughter Miranda (Sarah Vogt) have been marooned. Shakespeare’s magical sprite Ariel (John Telfer) has been translated into a rollerblading robot.
There isn’t much time for plot between spoofs on famous Shakespearean lines and more than 20 rock songs, but Miranda falls for the ship’s Captain Tempest (Brian Patrick Williams), although the ship’s cook, Cookie,(Will Boyajian) is trying to win her love. And it isn’t too big a surprise that the ship’s science officer (Hayley Galbraith) turns out to be Prospero’s wife Gloria who sent him into exile in the first place.
But don’t try to make too much sense out of it. Just sit back and enjoy the ride.
The exuberant Cookie, slinging his spatula around and singing into his wire whisk, was a clear audience favorite. Boyajian simply bounces into the role, and even accompanies himself on electric guitar. Telfer’s Ariel is another stand-out. His face barely peeks out of his upholstered helmet, and yet his eyes and mouth are so expressive they outshine the lights flashing on his chest.
Director Polanco has made great use of modern multi-media with a large video screen adding blast off and crash down perspectives as well as close-ups of the creepy monster caressing the ship and pre-recorded ditzy narrator interludes by HSRT Artistic Director David Colacci.
And what a light show! The stairs flash just about every imaginable color transforming the set from routine yellow, to demonic red or passionate purple. And these surround a glowing, smoking elevator, topped by a back wall of even more flashing lights and signs.
Music director Fred Tessler and his six-piece rock band are prominently displayed on a raised platform where they rock through “Wipe-Out,” “Great Balls of Fire,” “Good Vibrations,” “Gloria” and many more. The stage is wide-open where the cast is dancing almost continuously to the feverish, surfing moves of another time. At one point, they even get down with a short rap beat interrupting the rock refrain.
“Return to the Forbidden Planet” is definitely check-your-brain-at-the-door time, but it’s a rollicking ride.
‘Return to the Forbidden Planet’
Hope Summer Repertory Theatre, DeWitt Theatre, 141 E. 12th St., Holland. Plays in rotating repertory through Aug. 11. $10-$26. 616-395-7890. http://www.hope.edu/hsrt