People like Star Trek. People like The Tempest. People like the greatest hits of the 1950s and 60s. This doesn’t mean they like, want, or need all three of them together. Return to the Forbidden Planet is a cult 1950s sci-fi film that really, really never needed to be a musical. This show, could be quite fun if done with maximum camp and weirdness, but American High School Theatre Festival’s version is a badly-acted, terribly costumed alien mess that’s about as much fun as oral surgery.
The set, which looks like a collection of giant ice cubes made of cling film, is supposed to represent a space ship. Occasionally, people make vague hand motions in the directions of the ice cubes, but never actually touch them, because cling film is delicate. Apparently this represented steering the space ship. Mainly, the ice cubes just get in everyone’s way as they attempt to shake, rattle, and roll, and block the small but excellent band from view. The band has much more personality than any of the actors, and the brief moments when the saxophonist wandered into the action were all that stopped me from crawling under my seat and summoning the combined spirits of William Shakespeare, Gene Roddenberry and Jerry Lee Lewis to be revenged on the whole pack of them. The cast can sing decently and their lines were mostly audible, but enunciation is not their strong suit. For a good minute, I thought someone was shouting, “Look out! Aspirin!” Turns out it was asteroids.
The plot is best titled Sort of Like the Tempest Except Nobody Really Does Anything. As for the dialogue…it’s science fiction-addled faux Shakespeare that unless done with knowing tastelessness just leaves everyone wincing. We’d all be much more mentally sound without the existence of lines like “Where art thou, Robot?” and “Hark! I see before me an alien!” The cast, while youthful in appearance, have the soul-numbing delivery of telemarketers. Not all of the numbers would leave Motown’s greats rolling in their graves, (“It’s in His Kiss” isn’t too dreadful), and the space ship’s cook looks endearingly like Micky Dolenz. The stage is overcrowded by the massive cast, most of whom don’t have anything to do until it’s time for one of the dance numbers resembling the cast of Glee having an en masse seizure. All of the ship’s crewmembers wore brightly coloured shirts with appliqued sparkly bits. The homemade Star Trek look might have been charming, but for some reason all of them had been painted with drag queen levels of makeup. At first, I thought they were meant to be the aliens. Prospero, the only member of the cast old enough to have facial hair, was wearing what looked a crusader costume for a five year old. One of the crewmembers was dressed as an elf. This was never explained.
By the second lacklustre rendition of “Great Balls of Fire,” I wanted to set the laser gun to “annihilate.” If the good ship Tempest ever comes anywhere near your planet, kill it with great balls of fire.