Fasten your seatbelts for a wild ride as we Return to the Forbidden Planet, onstage through Nov. 4 at the Rubicon Theatre Company. The musical, with book by Bob Carlton, is so much fun that it’s no wonder that the Rubicon brought it back for another voyage since its acclaimed run in 2016.
Return to the Forbidden Planet is many things. It’s a campy send-up of 1956’s Forbidden Planet and other sci-fi flicks and TV shows of the 1950s and 1960s. It’s a high-octane musical, loaded with pop hits of the same era, like “Great Balls of Fire,” “Monster Mash” and many more. It is also (and this is where it gets really other-worldly) a spin on William Shakespeare’s The Tempest. (Whether it’s a testament to the Bard’s staying power, the epic comic delivery of the cast or the eruditeness of the audience, or a combination of all three, lines lifted from Shakespeare get many of the biggest laughs.)
The play opens with a video projection of the Narrator, played by the inimitable Fred Willard. Speaking in plucky iambic pentameter, Willard frames the story and sets the tone for an outrageous journey that is full of surprises.
Our voyage takes place aboard a space ship, helmed by the dashing Captain Tempest (Daniel DeYoung). His brave crew includes a science officer (Rebecca Ann Johnson), a Scottish first mate (Lucas Coleman) and a trio of ensign officers (Omar D. Brancato, Matt Tucci, Trevor Wheetman) who also make up the musical’s band. (Brancato and Wheetman are also the production’s music directors.) The navigation officer, played by Eric Shorey, bears an uncanny resemblance to a famous half-Vulcan, half-human, and sports a kicky bob haircut. They are joined by Cookie (Andrew Huber), the puckish cook who probably couldn’t tell a stove from a jukebox. Then there is the adorable dancing flight crew: Natalie Graham, Luke Hamann, Samantha Hirschhorn and Josh Ranck.
When the space craft is hit by a meteor shower, the science officer abandons ship while the others are pulled to a mysterious planet. They are met by Dr. Prospero (Kevin Bailey), a mad scientist who has been marooned on the planet with his daughter, Miranda (Kimberly Hessler). They are also introduced to Ariel (Larry Cedar), Prospero’s wise-cracking, roller-skating robot. Prospero offers to help repair the ship, but it’s Miranda who gets their attention. Both Capt. Tempest and Cookie fall in love with her, much to her father’s objections. Just as the romantic games reach a fever pitch, a monster attacks the ship. In the course of fighting off the creature, someone boards the ship. It’s Gloria, Prospero’s long-lost wife, aka the science officer with bigger hair.
And that’s just the first act. What follows is an ingenious twist on Shakespearean themes, mixed with all-out musical mayhem. There are many standout performances. The entire cast is wonderful and their camaraderie is so contagious that it’s hard to keep seated when they get rockin’ and rollin’.
Kirby Ward directed the stellar (had to be said) cast and choreographed the musical numbers. The clever set and lighting were designed by Thomas S. Giamario and Mike Billings, respectively. Jonathan A. Burke mastered the sound design. The perfectly retro costumes were created by Pamela Shaw. Tiffany Blake deserves a medal for hair and makeup, as does prop designer and set dresser T. Theresa Scarano.
Get your tickets to Return to the Forbidden Planet, because it’s one trip you don’t want to miss.
Return to the Forbidden Planet through Nov. 4 at the Rubicon Theatre Company, 1006 E. Main St., Ventura. For tickets and more information, call 805-667-2912 or visit www.rubicontheatre.org.