Return to the Forbidden Planet

The giddy, dizzying musical astonishingly blends '60s pop, sci-fi, and The Tempest

By Rev. Adam McKinney on March 22, 2018

Return to the Forbidden Planet is a whirling dervish of energy, throwing so many ideas and inventive set pieces at the wall to see what sticks, and its wild, giddy enthusiasm is positively infectious. Centerstage Theatre has produced a musical that's deceptively light as a feather, mashing together classic sci-fi tropes, ‘50s and ‘60s rock, and Shakespeare's The Tempest. For all its ambition, it doesn't seem like it should work, but stellar set design, a fun and varied selection of songs, and an exceedingly talented cast make this one of the more viscerally enjoyable shows I've seen in a while.

Bob Carlton's script draws inspiration not just from the classic film Forbidden Planet, but a host of other genre touchstones, most notably Star Trek. Captain Tempest (Jimmi Cook) leads a band of intrepid space explorers into the great beyond, including Science Officer (Olivia Lee), Navigational Officer (Matt Dela Cruz), the ship's onboard cook (Nick Hyatt-Schnell), crew members Bosun and Omnes (Jonathan Fowles and Ashley Roy), and their supporting ensemble (Jasmyne Mendoza, Aleecia Mejia, Kelly Nguyen). After a tractor beam guides their ship to a mysterious planet, they meet with mad scientist Dr. Prospero (Mark Waldstein), his lovestruck daughter Miranda (Helen Roundhill), and their trusty robot Ariel (Fune Tautala).

Fans of The Tempest will know where this combination of characters is headed, but those who don't will enjoy following the dizzying plot that has been laid out in breezy, candy-colored fashion. This, I think, is what makes Return to the Forbidden Planet so ideal, as a family-friendly show: with the exception of some modern words being mixed in to make the musical more sci-fi appropriate, Shakespeare's words have otherwise been preserved. Yes, everything is goofy and self-aware, but the decision to mix Shakespeare's language with popcorn entertainment and some groovy musical numbers makes this a perfect introduction for younger audience members who may be not familiar with Shakespeare.

Being a jukebox musical, the show mixes songs of varying genres and styles, though they may come from a similar timeframe. Any show that can segue from the Surfaris' "Wipe Out" to James Brown's "It's a Man's Man's Man's World," or from Bill Haley & His Comets' "Shake, Rattle and Roll" to the Moody Blues' "Go Now" is alright in my book. As for the actors, Cook brings a knowing wink to his role of the vapid, statuesque hunk of a captain; Lee has a strength and charm about her as the opinionated, possibly mutinous Science Captain; Hyatt-Schnell is dopey and lovable as the ship's cook (and shreds a mean guitar solo); and Roundhill brings pluck and strong physical comedy to Miranda.

This is a multimedia show, heavily leaning on a projected video screen that helps to fill in the full interstellar picture, and incorporating some lighthearted audience participation (no one will yell at you for staying seated, though, as I did). Director Taylor Davis has deftly balanced a cuddly, mutated monster of a show -- an irresistible spectacle that shines on the surface, yet contains hidden depths.

RETURN TO THE FORBIDDEN PLANET, 8 p.m., Thursday-Saturday; 2 p.m., Sunday, through March 31, $12-$29, Centerstage Theatre, 3200 SW Dash Point Rd., Federal Way, 253.661.1444,