Friday, July 17, 2009

Return to the Forbidden Planet, CSU Summer Stages

When you set out to have some campy fun on stage, it’s a good idea to hark back to the 1950’s, when damn near everything was hilarious. And that’s what CSU Summer Stages is doing with their production of Return to the Forbidden Planet.

A jukebox musical based on the 50’s flick Forbidden Planet, Return was written by Bob Carlton and is being given a furiously energetic production at the CSU Factory Theatre. Even though there are singing and other glitches evident throughout, the manic staging by director Michael Mauldin eventually wins one over.

With the playwright borrowing liberally from Shakespeare’s The Tempest (on which the original flick was based) and his other works, the dialogue in Return ranges from elegant to glibly idiotic. And since it’s all played for maximum fun and minimum reflection, it all seems appropriate.

Cast members interact with the audience pre-show, checking their programs as if they were boarding passes and warning about tray tables and such. And once the “starship” takes off, the audience is also called upon to help with certain functions, such as helping to reverse the polarity of, well, something.

Clearly, the large cast has a blast with this fluffy material about a journey to a planet inhabited by a reclusive wizard and his beauteous daughter. It is also studded with many familiar pop hit songs from the ‘50s and ‘60s. However, the musical content cuts both ways in this staging, since a few of the younger actors have some trouble carrying a tune.

But they are helped enormously by those who can, specifically Tracee Patterson as Gloria who rips it up with “It’s a Man’s World” and “Go Now,” Greg Violand as Prospero who brings surprising gravitas to “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” and John Paul Soto as a robotized Ariel, whose “Who’s Sorry Now?” features a semi-comatose turn by Patterson that is a marvel of rubber-limbed dexterity. Also, Lawrence Charles as Cookie turns in a purposeful rendition of "She's Not There."

Thanks to director Mauldin’s inventive staging, there is hardly a dull moment, as at least a few of the actors (inevitably) try out their William Shatner impressions and plenty of them get to dance, run and fall down a lot. But this frenzy of action sometimes gets a bit too loose, and the show at times takes on the appearance of an acting improvisation rather than a tightly-knit camp parody.

And some small details are not attended to. For instance, when the male crew members back up Captain Tempest (a nicely dim Lew Wallace) in one song, their casual approximation of back-up group moves doesn’t do comedic justice to the precision of, let’s say, the Pips.

Naturally, there is only so much of wacky fun that one can tolerate in a show like this. And at more than two hours with an intermission, Return to the Forbidden Planet stretches that limit to the breaking point. But it’s hard not to like a show where Prospero reappears later as Ghoulardi (even without a single “Stay sick, knif!” or “ Ova-dey!”) to lead the company in a gloriously irrelevant version of “Monster Mash.”

Return to the Forbidden Planet
Through August 9 (or so),
CSU FactoryTheatre,
1833 E. 23rd St., 216-687-2113

No comments: