Sci-fi Shakespeare musical opens in Tampa

'Return to the Forbidden Planet' mixes the Bard, rock hits and campy comedy

mclear@bradenton.comJune 12, 2014 

Jonathan Harrison stars as Captain Tempest and Amy Gray as Miranda in "The Forbidden Planet." Crawford Long/PUBLICITY PHOTO

The epic musical "Miss Saigon" was nominated for an Olivier Award, Britain's highest and most prestigious theater honor, for Best New Musical in 1989. But it didn't win.

It was beaten out by "Return to the Forbidden Planet," a silly jukebox musical that blended sci-fi, Shakespeare and old rock 'n' roll hits.

A new production by Jobsite Theatre, the professional theater company in residence at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa, opens this week.

Among the stars of the large cast are two actors from the Bradenton area, Jonathan Harrison of Parrish and Owen Robertson of Sarasota.

Harrison's a long-time professional actor who has appeared in several of the Shakespeare-based musicals at the American Stage in the Park Festival in St. Petersburg. He's been wanting to perform in "Return to the Forbidden Planet" since he saw another hit production of it in Tampa in 1996.

"Jeff Norton was in that, and he was a friend of mine," Harrison said. Norton was a noted area actor who was murdered in his home four years ago. "I've been wanting to do this show since that production. I haven't done anything theater-wise in about eight-years."

Harrison keeps his music chops sharp working as the singer for a popular area band the Vodkanauts. Vodkanauts guitarist Mark Warren is in the band for "Forbidden Planet."

Harrison has lots of Shakespeare experience, but he says this is something different.

"It Fakespeare," he said.

The show pulls lines and references from lots of Shakespeare shows, but it doesn't demand that its audience know or even enjoy Shakespeare. A typical Shakespeare reference in the show concerns a machine that monitors the planet's life forms and lets out a series of electronic noises. "Two beeps or not two beeps?" someone asks. This is not intellectual comedy, and it's not for Shakespeare purists.

The show's plot takes the premise of "The Tempest," adds elements of the classic 1950s science-fiction flick "Forbidden Planet" (which was itself very loosely based on "The Tempest"), and adds in a couple of dozen songs from the '50s and early '60s. Among the songs: "Johnny B. Goode," "Go Now," "Wipe Out" and "Monster Mash."

"It's a great deal of fun," said Robertson, the Sarasota actor who's been a Jobsite regular for the past few years. His character "invents a drug that allows him to create things with the power of thought. Unfortunately he creates monsters with his thoughts. He realizes he has to go away, and he commits what he calls cosmic suicide."

Jobsite Theatre usually performs in the Shimberg Theatre, the black-box space at the Straz. Harrison said he's been keeping an eye on the troupe in its 16 years at the Straz and says "Forbidden Planet" shows that Jobsite is coming of age by producing a show in a much larger theater with much greater technical capabilities.

"They've gotten better," he said. "Not that they weren't good, but they were very young. This is Jobsite's big, huge break."

Details: June 12-July 6, Jaeb Theatre at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts, 1010 N. MacInnes Place, Tampa. Show times: 8 p.m. Thursday- Friday, 4 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 4 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $29.50 plus service charge and up. Information: 813-229-7827, strazcenter.org.

Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.

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