Theater audiences are invited to blast off for a wild rock ’n’ roll ride in outer space when “Return to the Forbidden Planet” plays in the Jaeb Theatre this month at Tampa’s Straz Center for the Performing Arts.
This Jobsite Theatre co-production is a comical smash-up of Shakespeare, familiar 1960s rock ’n’ roll music and a classic 1950s sci-fi film.
It is inspired by “Forbidden Planet,” a 1956 space thriller that starred Leslie Nelson, Anne Francis, Walter Pidgeon and introduced Robby the Robot.
“Return to the Forbidden Planet” is a jukebox musical that debuted in London in 1989 where it won the Olivier Award for Best Musical. It played off Broadway in 1991.
The original 1956 sci-fi film has parallels to William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” and has become a cult favorite. The late Gene Roddenberry said that “Forbidden Planet” was an inspiration for his creation, “Star Trek.”
Director David A. Jenkins says the Jobsite production goes beyond “Forbidden Planet’ to include references to everything from “Star Trek” to “Star Wars.”
“It’s a lot of good, clean fun,” says Jenkins. “People will get the references; everyone knows the music; and there are a lot of lines from Shakespeare that people will recognize, too.”
“This is a different kind of play from what we usually do at Jobsite, and we’re doing it in the Jaeb Theatre, which is great venue for a musical,” says Jenkins. “This is a good summer production, something that both grandmas and grandkids can enjoy.”
“Part of the fun is that the audience is part of action. They are on the spaceship, and so the characters break the fourth wall and directly address the audience,” Jenkins says. “For opening night we had people dressed as aliens in the audience, and people are encouraged to attend future performances dressed as their favorite science fiction character.”
Jaeb veteran actor Jonathan Harrison (of the Tampa rock group Vodkanauts) portrays Captain Tempest, heroic leader of a routine survey flight that ends up on the planet D’IIIyria, where they meet a mad scientist, Doctor Prospero (portrayed by Owen Robertson) and the Prospero’s attractive daughter, Miranda (Amy E. Gray)
The iconic Robby the Robot from the original film has been replaced by Ariel (Jaime Giangrande-Holcom), a female robot on roller skates.
Also in the cast is Heather Krueger in dual roles as the ship’s Science Officer and as Gloria, Prospero’s scheming wife.
J. Elijah Cho is the First Mate, Bosun Arras; Spencer Meyers plays the ship’s cook, Cookie; and Maggie Mularz is the Navigational Officer.
The story includes a battle of the sexes as well as a romance, also an attacking monster and a mysterious formula, “X Factor,” which supposedly can enhance the brain power.
A four-piece band (Woody Bond on drums; Jana Jones on bass; Mark Warren on guitar; and Parker Wilkson on keyboard) covers more than 25 pop songs from “Great Balls of Fire” to “A Teenager in Love” and many others.