Monday, July 13, 2009



The theatre people at Cleveland State University are trying to tell us their 2009 Summer Stages’ ‘RETURN TO THE FORBIDDEN PLANET,’ is a musical version of Shakespeare’s ‘THE TEMPEST.’ Well, don’t believe them. What it is, is a zany blend of faux Shakespeare (think of it as Fakespeare), mixed with science fiction, a whole canon of quips and puns, all highlighted with rock-and-roll hits. This is a zany hoot!

Don’t attend with any idea that you are going to take the goings on seriously. Go expecting to get beach balls thrown at you. Balls which will continue to be tossed about by the audience, while you are holding your hands on your head, doing squats, and trying to stop from laughing at the ridiculousness.

The hardest thing to believe about the whole experience is that this bizarre show won the 1990 Olivier Award (the British Tony Award) for Best Musical, beating out ‘MISS SAIGON.’

This is the kind of script and production that cult shows are made of. Think ‘THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW,’ ‘EVIL DEAD’ and ‘SPAMALOT.’

This is the “tale of the future.” Well, actually the past of the 1950s when the atomic bomb had everyone scared, Mad Scientists ran amok, and fear was in the air. Fear of fear of science, fear of sex, fear of the Russians, fear of ourselves, and the fear of rock and roll! It was a time when the most innocent lab experiments could result in giant monster bugs and mutated humans.

Specifically, we participate as the crew of a routine spaceship flight is drawn mysteriously to the planet D'Illyria where mad scientist Doctor Prospero and his lovely daughter Miranda are marooned. (Sounds like a 1950 black and white television show, huh?)

For music, conceiver Bob Carlton uses many rock and roll oldies, which are dropped in between lines, often for no reason. Songs include “Great Balls of Fire,” “Shake, Rattle and Roll,” “Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood,” “Good Vibrations,” and “Only the Lonely.” I defy you to stop your bouncing legs and swaying bodies as musical director/keyboardist John Kroll, and the “ship” musicians, wail.

The CSU production, under the creative direction of Michael Mauldin, is well staged and has all the right ridiculousness needed to make this a fun production. Lynn Deering’s fine choreography adds to the hilarity.

The cast is universally excellent. Handsome Lew Wallace plays the Ken doll-like thick-headed, emotion absent, captain of our ship, with the right degree of seriousness. He has a fine singing voice and dances well. Greg Violand, he of great singing voice, whose career has seen him transition from ingénue to nasty old man, is properly fake-evil as scientist Prospero, who gives his life to “save us.” John Paul Soto sparkles as a endearing roller-skating robot. Tracee Patterson sings and mugs her way through the role of the bad/good Gloria. Her limp rag doll segment is nothing short of hysterical. The rest of the cast is up to the task of creating the right degree of the faux seriousness. This is a difficult undertaking, because there is often a temptation in this type of show to over- do the action. This would have brought about a less comic result.

Don McBride’s set (with the exception of a door design flaw which caused problems on opening night), Alison Garrigan’s costumes and properly horrific wigs, Dennis Dugan’s lighting and Jim Swonger’s sound designs all enhance the production.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘RETURN TO THE FORBIDDEN PLANET’ is a laugh delight at CSU’s 2009 Summer Stages. This is a must go-see for summer entertainment!