1. Stage

Jobsite beams up to the Jaeb Theater for 'Return to the Forbidden Planet'

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Published Jun. 12, 2014

How much geekery hath Return to the Forbidden Planet? Let us count the ways.

There's the movie it's based on, the 1956 space cult classic Forbidden Planet with Leslie Nielsen, Walter Pidgeon and Anne Francis. Then there's the play that movie is based on, a little something from William Shakespeare called The Tempest. Mash the Bard with a broken down star ship and you get lines like:

What light through yonder airlock breaks?

Two beeps, or not two beeps?

But, wait, there's more. Return to the Forbidden Planet, opening day at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, is also a jukebox musical with songs you'd actually find on an old-time jukebox, classics like Shake, Rattle and Roll; Great Balls of Fire; Gloria; Wipe Out; and Good Vibrations.

Somewhere in that pop culture melange, odds are good people will find something to connect with. It's part of why Jobsite Theater picked the ubiquitously strange Return to the Forbidden Planet for its debut performance inside the Jaeb Theater.

There's more at stake than just a nerdy time.

Jobsite is the resident theater company of the Straz, producing full seasons in the intimate 130-seat Shimberg Playhouse. Jobsite uses the Straz facilities but works within its own budget.

This is different. Return to the Forbidden Planet is being produced in a partnership with the Straz, which means everything is a little bigger (look no further than the show's giant billboard on Interstate 275, a feat Jobsite couldn't pull off on its own).

And the show has moved into the neighboring Jaeb, which has 268 seats, lounge tables and a relaxed atmosphere that lends itself particularly well to campy musicals. Most recently, the Jaeb welcomed a three-month run of the fractured fairy-tale cabaret Disenchanted.

Fill the seats, said Jobsite artistic director David Jenkins, have a quality run, and Jobsite could have a shot at doing more shows in the Jaeb, staging musicals and large-scale productions there and smaller, more cerebral plays in the Shimberg.

"In the dreamiest of worlds, this is a start of a residency over both spaces," Jenkins said. "That's what we want. We've got to kind of prove ourselves. This is a test. We can do this, and we can do it well, and we can do it consistently."

When Jenkins started talking to Straz president Judith Lisi about doing a show in the Jaeb, he said, she brought up Return to the Forbidden Planet. It's family-friendly; it's interactive. But it still has an offbeat flavor fit for Jobsite, which this season produced Hedwig and the Angry Inch and All New People, a new play by Zach Braff.

Return to the Forbidden Planet had a successful run in the Jaeb in 1996, when the Warehouse Theater put on a production featuring local stars of the era including Paul Wilborn, Lee Ahlin and the late Jeff Norton. Now-retired TV news anchor Bob Hite had a bit role via video.

"I just think it could be very environmental," Lisi said of Jobsite tackling the show. "And I think it will be a lot of fun."

The show by Bob Carlton centers around a spaceship that gets caught in a tractor beam and crash-lands on a mysterious planet. It originated in England in the 1980s and gained a cult following, twice winning the Laurence Olivier Award, the British equivalent of the Tony Awards.

Jenkins, who is directing the show, wanted the 2014 rebirth to feel like a big summer party the whole community could get behind. He cut the script's single curse word and classifies the humor as Simpsons-style, stuff that will land with adults but go over kids' heads. Visually, he said, it's packed with nods to the original Star Trek and Barbarella.

He cast Heather Krueger and Jonathan Harrison, who starred together as Audrey and Seymour in Little Shop of Horrors more than a decade ago. Harrison plays Captain Tempest, commander of the flight. Krueger plays Gloria, the ship's science officer.

"Captain Tempest is kind of a know-it-all, but he's not as smart as he thinks he is," said Harrison, also the lead singer of local power lounge band the Vodkanauts. "He's real confident but there's a lot of underlying dumb things."

"She's a strong woman, smart," Krueger said of her character. "I actually do know what I'm talking about."

For opening night, Jobsite appealed to the vast pockets of sci-fi fandoms, lining up Star Wars, Star Trek and superhero clubs to attend. People should wear costumes if they want, Jenkins said, and stick around and take pictures with the cast after the show.

And the layers don't stop.

Before the show, listen for recordings, flight instructions, music and references to even more geekery. How much geekery? Let us count …

Space Mountain, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, Doctor Who

"If people are paying attention in the lobby," Jenkins said, "they'll hear this stuff."

Stephanie Hayes can be reached at or (727) 893-8716. Follow her on Twitter at @stephhayes.