1. Stage

'Return to the Forbidden Planet' at the Straz is one big nerdy trip

Jonathan Harrison plays the dense Capt. Tempest and Amy Gray plays popular hottie Miranda.
Jonathan Harrison plays the dense Capt. Tempest and Amy Gray plays popular hottie Miranda.
Published Jun. 17, 2014

TAMPA — When you land in the Jaeb Theater for Return to the Forbidden Planet and glimpse the set — mod space captain's chair, flashing electronics, color, color, color! — you may assume it's time to set your brain-ship on autopilot.

But you have to engage here, at least a little bit.

Return to the Forbidden Planet is a science fiction retelling of Shakespeare's The Tempest, and not just in story structure. The dialogue is all Shakespearean, the Bard's famous lines twisted for comedy's sake. Think, "If thou loves this chick..." and "What sayest thou, Cookie?" and "Good morrow, big boy." It's all balanced with a score of 1950s and '60s rock classics.

Given the dialogue, you have to make some effort to comprehend the story. And to really get the most out of the experience, you'll be wise to pay attention for the ample nerdy references Jobsite Theater has packed into the night.

Here's one to get you started: The band's bass player is rocking some seriously radical Princess Leia buns.

Jobsite, the resident theater company of the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, is tackling Bob Carlton's musical fashioned on the 1956 Leslie Nielsen cult movie Forbidden Planet. The stage show originated in England and cleaned up at the prestigious Laurence Olivier Awards, the British equivalent of the Tony Awards, even besting Miss Saigon.

Jobsite picked the show for its first big partnership with the Straz, moving out of its usual space in the Shimberg Playhouse and into the larger Jaeb. The set by Brian M. Smallheer is a tasty neon confection that fills the large stage.

The gist: A spaceship helmed by the dense Capt. Tempest (Jonathan Harrison) gets caught in a tractor beam, crashes on a mysterious planet and picks up travelers. Hearts and tempers flare, people are not who they seem, etc.

A couple lads on board have a hankering for Miranda (Amy E. Gray), hottie daughter to Prospero (Owen Robertson). Prospero is about to re-meet the ship's science officer (the effervescent Heather Krueger), someone from his past he'd rather not see.

The cast members are engaging and funny with powerhouse vocals. Gray in particular does a deft job delivering the dialogue in a way that makes sense. Her paramour Capt. Tempest, hilariously played by the lead singer of local power-lounge band the Vodkanauts, has a rubber face that's a treat to watch.

On opening night, Jobsite packed the venue with folks in costume from local Star Wars and superhero clubs. Director David A. Jenkins hopes the cosplay will continue throughout the run, so feel free to wear your Spandex to the theater.

Jenkins' imagining of the Return to the Forbidden Planet experience feels thoroughly 2014, complete with a hashtag, #ForbiddenPlanet. There are nods to Doctor Who, Avatar, The Matrix. When the lovelorn Cookie (Spencer Meyers) sings She's Not There, he bursts into a solo on the Guitar Hero remote. And Prospero has a decidedly steampunk look, a sci-fi sub-genre that was just a zygote when the musical was penned.

The show's classic rock blends pretty seamlessly into the Shakespearean chatter, everything from Teenager in Love to Good Vibrations to Young Girl to Wipeout to Gloria to Oh, Pretty Woman. Tuning out the dialogue and just enjoying the music is an option, sure. But if you don't follow the story and get invested in the characters, Return to the Forbidden Planet starts to feel a little long toward the end, like one big banana peel slip.

Wouldn't you rather keep your mind set on warp-speed?

Stephanie Hayes can be reached at or (727) 893-8716.