Beam me up, Prospero

Return to the Forbidden Planet

James Charlesworth, Madelaine Quandt, Lew Rooker and Christine Nicholson boldly don the retro clothes of the future for their <i>Return to the Forbidden Planet</i>.

James Charlesworth, Madelaine Quandt, Lew Rooker and Christine Nicholson boldly don the retro clothes of the future for their Return to the Forbidden Planet.

Rated 4.0

You have to hand it to City Theatre, housed at Sacramento City College. Under the direction of Luther Hanson, this theater seldom makes safe choices. This fall, it presented the highly charged drama Equus, and then it turned around and tweaked William Shakespeare in a cheeky manner with Return to the Forbidden Planet.

Return to the Forbidden Planet is a cult musical better known in Britain. It’s seldom staged in the United States, which is a bit of a mystery considering how embraceably bizarre it is. It’s a send-up of the cheesy 1950s B-movie space flick Forbidden Planet, but it also loosely riffs on Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Plus, it’s a musical that cleverly pays homage to 1950s and 1960s rock ’n’ roll while shamelessly shooting Shakespeare puns about.

Yup, it’s all those things rolled into one, along with campy dialogue, kooky costumes, a clever set, and a cast full of energy and enthusiasm. Add a hot live band, and what’s not to love?

The story is vaguely based on The Tempest, and though it’s a clever premise, it’s also the weakest link of the production. The plot includes some of The Tempest’s characters and parts of the Bard’s original dialogue but adds a whole mess of colorful characters and wacky scenes.

The most inspired element, however, is the clever weaving of rock ’n’ roll classics into the story line. These include “Wipe Out,” “It’s a Man’s World,” “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” a rockin’ “She’s Not There,” “Good Vibrations,” “Gloria” and “Young Ones”—all backed by a tight five-member band.

The look of the production adds to the fun. The set recalls the fake, blinking-lights, spaceship command post of early Star Trek episodes. And the costumes are suitably tacky, taken straight from campy space movies: wing-shouldered jumpsuits for the men; mini-tunics, boots and bouffants for the women; and silly antenna helmets for the band.

Hanson wisely uses more-experienced actors to ground the cast, while placing less-experienced student thespians in supportive positions. Notable performances come from James Charlesworth as Capt. Tempest, Christine Nicholson as Science Officer, Jeffrey Frieders as Cookie, and Lew Rooker as Prospero. What makes this production really zing is the sense of humor, absurdity and fun shared by the entire cast and the musicians.