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Return To Forbidden Planet’ Serves Up Shakespeare’s Lost Rock And Roll Masterpiece

Jukebox musical takes the stage at Carlsbad’s New Village Arts Theatre

David S. Humphrey is Captain Tempest and Marlene Montes is the ship's science...

Photo by Beth Accomando

Above: David S. Humphrey is Captain Tempest and Marlene Montes is the ship's science officer in "Return to Forbidden Planet" at the New Village Arts Theatre.

"Return to Forbidden Planet" approaches Shakespeare by way of rock and roll music and sci-fi B movies. KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando checks out the Bard in outer space at the New Village Arts Theater.

Transcript

Companion viewing

"Forbidden Planet" (1956)

"Strange Brew" (1983)

"Scotland, PA" (2001)

"Return to Forbidden Planet" (running through Sept. 6 at Carlsbad's New Village Arts Theatre) approaches Shakespeare by way of rock and roll music and sci-fi B movies.

Shakespeare’s been dead for centuries but that hasn’t stopped people from exhuming his plays and trying to breath new life into them for modern audiences. Radical reinterpretations of the Bard have included moving Hamlet to a Canadian brewery for the comedy "Strange Brew" or placing the ambitious tale of "Macbeth" against the backdrop of the competitive fast food industry. In 1956, MGM produced a famous intergalactic interpretation of "The Tempest," starring Walter Pidgeon, Anne Francis, and Leslie Nielsen and entitled "Forbidden Planet."

"'Forbidden Planet' was loosely based on 'The Tempest' and so we’re loosely, loosely based on that," Marlene Montes explained. She stars as the sexy science officer in the play "Return to Forbidden Planet" at Carlsbad’s New Village Arts Theater.

"We call it 'Fakespeare,' but there’s actually real dialogue from Shakespeare’s plays. My character alone quotes ten of the plays but then they also kind of write the dialogue to change some things so, for example, there’s one line that is 'Two beeps or not to beep,' and people think it’s a riot."

The play is a jukebox musical created by Bob Carlton in the 1980s. It draws on Shakespeare's "The Tempest" and the 1950s science fiction film "Forbidden Planet," which also cited the Bard’s last play as inspiration. "Return to Forbidden Planet" originally billed itself as Shakespeare's forgotten rock and roll masterpiece. And why not, the Bard and rock and roll is a winning combo says Montes.

"They work so well together because Shakespeare was written for the masses, for everyone and rock and roll also speaks to the masses so I think that’s why it’s so relatable in such a weird way," Montes said.

Plus, Shakespeare’s poetry taps into the essence of musical theater.

"When you burst into song it’s because it’s an elevated [moment], like your emotions are elevated and speaking can’t quite convey [it] so people break out into song. I think it’s the same thing with Shakespeare and the text guides you to that place and how it’s kind of organic," Montes added.

So it makes perfect sense for the Prospero character to introduce himself by singing "Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood."

The familiar songs help make sure that Shakespeare is understood.

"Exactly," actor David S. Humphrey stated. "What’s great about this show is people that don’t understand Shakespeare or haven't taken that step into there, I don’t know if they are afraid of it or they don’t think they’ll understand it or they are not interested. This gives them that taste of it and makes them go 'wait I might actually like to see a Shakespeare play or see 'The Tempest.''"

You could say "Return to Forbidden Planet" serves as a gateway drug to the Bard.

"Absolutely," Montes exclaimed. "I read somewhere that it was like Shakespeare on training wheels. Kind of like a good introduction to Shakespeare so absolutely I think it’s relatable and so funny and effortless the way they work in the show so maybe it will inspire someone to read some Shakespeare."

"The Tempest" had its characters isolated on an island and "Return to Forbidden Planet" takes it to the next level by stranding them on a distant planet. It refreshes Shakespeare’s play so that anyone familiar with the text won’t know what to expect from the Bard in space, said Humphrey who plays Captain Tempest.

"They will be able to come in and see the Shakespeare but also be a part of the wonderful music and see the wonderful sci fi aspects to it," Humphrey said.

The production definitely references "Star Trek" and "Star Wars" as well comics and B movies of the 50s. But underneath it all you still find Shakespeare.

"It’s really fun because you are mixing all this together, it’s just such a creative thing to do, and it’s amazing how well it goes together. Shakespeare still fits today because you can do that, you can take these wonderful songs from the 60s and put it with Shakespeare and it all mixes together really well," Humphrey said.

Shakespeare was all about pleasing the crowd from the groundlings up to the aristocrats, so I doubt that this campy cult musical is making Will turn over in his grave. Quite the contrary, he’s probably pleased that he’s still good box office.

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