BWW Review: RETURN TO THE FORBIDDEN PLANET Gloriously Re-Visits the Rubicon Theatre Galaxy to Celebrate its 20th Anniversary Season
As a fan of the 1950's sci-fi movie "Forbidden Planet" as well as almost every single Shakespeare play and classic rock and roll, two years ago I discovered the fabulously campy Olivier Award-winning musical RETURN TO THE FORBIDDEN PLANET at the Rubicon Theatre in Ventura. So when I heard it was being brought back there for just two weekends to celebrate its 20th anniversary season, one of which being my birthday weekend, I knew I had to get back and experience the pure joy of it again. And what fun it was!
The musical is a send-up of the cult classic movie and other sci-fi films and TV shows of the 1950s, melded with plot elements from "The Tempest" along with dialogue bits from multiple Shakespeare plays. That was part of the fun for me, catching so many Shakespearean quotes perfectly placed in the dialogue of Bob Carlton's musical set on a spaceship sometime in the future, featuring a galaxy of 1950's and 1960's rock and roll classics including "Wipeout," "Good Vibrations," "Great Balls of Fire," "All Shook Up," "Monster Mash" and "We Gotta Get Out of this Place." And what an outrageously fabulous band under the musical direction of Trevor Wheetman and Omar D. Brancato, both of whom rocked the house on guitars while believably playing Ensign crew members onstage.
RETURN TO THE FORBIDDEN PLANET follows the adventures of the dashing, guitar-playing spaceship captain Tempest (tall and handsome Daniel DeYoung) and his crew who hit a meteor shower and are then mysteriously drawn off course to the planet D'Illyria. There they discover the mad scientist Dr. Prospero (Kevin Bailey whose joie de vivre constantly fills the stage with wonder) and his beautiful daughter Miranda (lovely Ashley Fox Linton filling in for Kimberly Hessler), along with the silver-faced robot Ariel (Larry Cedar who perfectly combines the rigidity of a mechanized robot infused with an outrageous sense of ironic humor, Lucas Coleman as the ship's guitar-wielding Scottish Bosun, and Eric Shorey as the keyboard-playing Spock-like Navigation Officer all add a touch of Star Trek and great musical showmanship to the show! Rounding out the crew and band are Matt Tucci on drums with the fabulous Natalie Graham, Luke Hamann, Samantha Hirschhorn and Josh Ranck as the ship's chorus of back-up singers.
As a romance develops between Captain Tempest and Miranda, the ship's chef Cookie (rock singer extraordinaire Andrew Huber who literally steals the show every moment he takes the stage with enthusiasm and energy beyond belief) also falls in love with Miranda causing complications galore as they ask themselves "Why Must I be a Teenager in Love?" Dr. Prospero's anger rises as the men pursue his daughter, and his ex-wife Gloria (fabulous redheaded rocker Rebecca Ann Johnson who expounds upon the need for women in space during "It's a Man's World") re-appears to seek revenge, causing the monster created from Prospero's unconscious mind to threaten the spaceship and the survival of everyone on it.
As the story unfolds, film and TV star Fred Willard appears digitally as the Narrator on a large screen above the multi-level set, a brazen salute to "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." With all the antics going on, I was wondering when the audience would be encouraged to throw rice or toast at appropriate moments - but fortunately that never happened during this rock and roll extravaganza which will appeal to audiences of all ages whether or not you know the original movie or Shakespeare's dialogue. Everyone in audience certainly laughed when the line "Two Beeps or not Two Beeps" was said!
A veteran of over 65 theatrical productions, Director/Choreographer Kirby Ward has again created quite a magical production with a wonderfully creative and talented cast, impressive and thoroughly entertaining staging, with outstanding and attention-grabbing scenic design by Thomas S. Giamario, inventive lighting by Mike Billings, perfectly appropriate costumes by Pamela Shaw with outrageous hair and make-up designed by Tiffany Baker, along with sound designer Jonathan Burke who kept the place rocking without damaging your eardrums! I cannot offer enough kudos to everyone involved for making this production a fitting tribute to the musical and Rubicon Theatre! Get your tickets ASAP as this production marks the musical's final journey there and this is one show you must not miss!
RETURN TO THE FORBIDDEN PLANET continues Wednesdays at 2 and 7 p.m., Thursdays at 7 p.m., Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 2 and 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through November 4. All performances are at Rubicon Theatre, 1006 E. Main Street in Ventura's Downtown Cultural District (the corner or Main and Laurel). Those in costume attending the matinee or evening performance on Halloween, Wednesday, October 31, will receive a free concession voucher.
For tickets, visit www.rubicontheatre.org or call (805) 667-2900. Regular tickets range from $40 to $65 plus a $4 service fee, depending on day of the week and time. Special pricing for students with ID are $30; students and military are $35. There is a $5 discount for seniors 65 and older. For tickets, call (805) 667-2900, Monday-Sunday, noon to 6:00 p.m., or visit www.rubicontheatre.org.
Photo credit: Jeanne Tanner