By Charlene Baldridge
Shakespeare’s “Tempest,” in which an exiled magician named Prospero relinquishes his power and gives his teenage daughter, Miranda, over to “a brave new world,” is exceptionally fertile fodder for parody. Prospero shows up in operatic mash-ups such as Thomas Ades’s recent “The Enchanted Island,” and in the recent San Diego International Fringe Festival’s “The True Historie of Prince Prospero,” a play by Tim West.
As for locale, “The Tempest” is set anywhere the imagination takes one. Now, as seen this month at New Village Arts (NVA) in Carlsbad Village, it’s a musical that takes place on a forbidden planet in a galaxy far away.
Using imagery and rock ‘n’ roll music from the 1950-60s, “Return to the Forbidden Planet” author Bob Carlton weaves a tale loosely resembling the space genre as seen in cinema and on television years ago, particularly in a flick titled “Forbidden Planet.”
Carlton’s musical was billed as “Shakespeare’s forgotten rock masterpiece” and knocked about in the United Kingdom for some years, then played the West End in 1989, winning an Olivier Award for Best New Musical. It played off-Broadway in 1991, and a 25th anniversary U.K. tour is currently in progress.
Meanwhile, NVA decided the musical would be perfect summer fare, and it is particularly apt, considering the 15-year-old company’s one-time practice of presenting Shakespeare in the summertime.
The powers that be entrusted the whole kit and caboodle to director Jon Lorenz, one of the creators of “Mixtape,” who makes it look easy along with a powerhouse company that delivers joy, musicality and sincerity in performing the giddy piece. Justin Gray is music director and Colleen Kollar Smith is the choreographer.
Prospero (Manny Fernandes) and his daughter, Miranda (Kelly Derouin) have been stranded inter-planetarily for around 15 – 16 years, when Intergalactic Space Flight 9, on a routine flight, with the comically self-centered Captain Tempest (David S. Humphrey) in charge. At the first sign of trouble, the Science Officer (Marlene Montes) steals the only possible means of escape and escapes, leaving the others to cope with being in the gravitational grip of a strange planet, which turns out to be Prospero’s.
Other crewmembers are the Bosun (Brian Butler), Navigation Officer (Morgan Carberry), Cookie the cook (Charlie Gange) and an absolutely charming robot named Ariel (Kevane L’Marr Coleman).
Miranda falls promptly in love with Capt. Tempest, who is such a grownup space cadet he does not return her affection. So she sings (why must I be a) “Teenager in Love.” Cookie, who later sings “Only the Lonely,” unrequitedly falls in love with Miranda. But that’s not all. Once forcibly landed on Prospero’s planet, all are threatened by a monster with long tentacles. Other rock ‘n’ roll songs include “Great Balls of Fire,” “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” “Born to Be Wild,” and “Hey, Mr. Spaceman.”
The soundtrack is seamlessly integrated (Garrett Wysocki) with the action and all goes smoothly, with lots of spaceship screen work, just like old times on TV (projection designer Blake McCarty).
Among the production’s assets are young Gange’s live guitar and vocals and the entire cast’s exceptionally listenable vocalism, including the talents of Humphrey, Coleman and Fernandez. Derouin is quite a find.
It’s a goofy blast, a show with great appeal for the entire family, even though it tends to go on a bit in the second act. Nonetheless, those my age take a nostalgia trip (scenic designer Natalie Khuen), and the youngsters will be entertained by the special effects (lighting designer Chris Renda and properties designer Alyssa Schindler) and the marvelous detail of the roller-skating Ariel’s get-up (costume designer, Danita Lee). Those previously thought of mainly as actors sing exceptionally well, and the singers are excellent. With subtle tinges of Elvis, Humphrey is funnier, sexier and more talented than ever.