CHAMPAIGN – In a review of the 1956 sci-fi movie "Forbidden Planet," based on William Shakespeare's "The Tempest," a New Yorker critic wrote, "It's a pity they didn't lift some of Shakespeare's language."
Perhaps playwright Bob Carlton read that before writing his rock-and-roll musical "Return to the Forbidden Planet," a hybrid based on the movie and "The Tempest." In the musical, Carlton lifts the bard's language from not only "The Tempest" but also other Shakespeare plays.
Sometimes modified with modern slang, the dialogue – for example, "What light through yonder air-lock breaks?" – segues nicely into classic '50s and '60s rock-'n'-roll songs.
And in the musical, opening Wednesday at Parkland Theatre, the members of the audience become space-age travelers along with the cast, or should we say crew.
"It's a wild show," said Dallas Street, who directs.
An onstage nine-member band of guitarists, keyboardist, bassist and drummer backs the crew, led by Michael Steen, a young yet veteran musical-theater actor who portrays Captain Tempest of the Starship Albatross.
Steen sees Tempest as sort of a Buzz Lightyear character, mixed with a Ken-doll wannabe and rock-star wannabe who happens to fly a space ship. The show opens with the Albatross taking off from Earth. It's eventually drawn by beams of light to the mysterious planet D'Illyria.
Marooned there, Capt. Tempest and his crew encounter a mad scientist, Dr. Prospero, portrayed by Scott Harman, and his beautiful daughter, Miranda, who has never seen a man before besides her father. She is played by Audrey Shoemaker. William Rose II is Ariel, Dr. Prospero's faithful robot.
This high-energy action is interspersed with classic tunes such as "Great Balls of Fire," "Good Vibrations," "Teenager in Love" and "Shake, Rattle and Roll."
"It's definitely a jukebox musical," Street said. "What I like about it is it's not a show with music by just one artist. The fun is seeing how the songs are worked into the show. I think kids will get a kick out of it because it's such a visual piece. Adults who know the songs will get a kick out of that."
The characters break into funky dance moves as well. The choreography is by Street, with advice from the go-go dancers: Heather Johnson, Laura McQueen and Kristal Monahan-Mitchell. The three play space-flight attendants.
The '50s space-age set designed by David Morgan, a Parkland instructor, makes use of the wings of the Parkland Theatre, to further encompass the audience.
And there will be lots of lights. "Return to the Forbidden Planet" will likely be the biggest light show ever at the theater, Street said. Sean Murphy is in charge of lighting design. And students in a Parkland 3-D computer class, taught by David Bock, created pre-recorded video projections for the show.
A cult hit perhaps better known in the United Kingdom, "Return to the Forbidden Planet" was first presented in the mid-'80s in a London park, then under a tent in the London boroughs by the Bubble Theatre Company. After one season, "Return to the Forbidden Planet" was presented at Everyman Theatre in Liverpool and Tricycle Theatre in London, where it caught the attention of West End producer Andre Ptaszynski.
The show opened in September 1989 at the Cambridge Theatre on the West End and ran for more than three years.
In 1990, "Return to the Forbidden Planet" won the Olivier Award for best musical over other productions, among them "Miss Saigon." The controversial decision led to the Olivier Awards coming up with a new rule requiring musicals, to be eligible for the best-musical award, to have new songs.
Parkland Theatre decided last year to present "Return to the Forbidden Planet" after Tom Mitchell, interim director of the University of Illinois Department of Theatre, asked Parkland to participate in the community-wide focus this semester on Shakespeare.
"We were sort of barnstorming about what show to do," Street remembered. "This is one I wanted to do. You never get to see a spaceship on stage, and it's such a lively show. So Tom Mitchell is to blame."
Steen, a stylist at Fuad's Creative Hair Designs, said some of his clients tell him they don't think their children will enjoy the musical because it incorporates Shakespeare's language.
"Shakespeare is there as a framework for the music," Steen tells them. "It's more of a rock-'n'-roll show. Shakespeare is thrown in for good measure."
"Return to the Forbidden Planet" actually diverts from "The Tempest" halfway through to become its own show, Street said. The Parkland production – Street believes it's the Champaign-Urbana premiere of the musical – runs for 90 minutes, without intermission.
"It's a direct flight," Street quipped.
Rounding out the cast are Mya Brown, Kyle Downs, Matt Eberle, Mary Eisenhardt and Mark Fuelle. Costumes are by Cloey Vanderglitz, and musical direction is by Tim Schirmer, with assistance from Ed Schaller.