DAILY CAMERA: Shakespeare might not recognize this ‘Planet’
William Shakespeare didn’t stick around long enough to witness the rock ‘n’ roll revolution firsthand.
Elizabethan England might have been far removed from the world of Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley and Roy Orbison, but that didn’t stop members of the University of Colorado’s theater and dance department from infusing their latest Shakespearean production with as much rock ‘n’ roll brashness as possible. What’s more, for good measure, they also threw in elements of 1950s-era science fiction, Lindy Hop dance moves and modern hip hop.
While all of these thoroughly contemporary elements might signal a type of sacrilege for some Shakespeare purists, the CU theater crew is only the latest troupe to explore these updates in staging “Return to the Forbidden Planet.” Written by Bob Carlton, the jukebox musical draws its basic plot and structure from one of Shakespeare’s best-loved romances, “The Tempest.”
“(The show) is written as a jukebox musical that combines classic rock ‘n’ roll songs, science fiction movies and Shakespeare,” said Cecilia Pang, associate professor and head of performance for CU’s Department of Theatre and Dance. Pang is directing the production, which features an ensemble of CU students and musicians whose duties constantly blend in to each other. “In this production, the band is an integral element of the show from beginning to end.
“They not only play the instruments, but they also sing and act. Likewise, our cast not only acts and sings and dances, they also play instruments,” Pang added.
That kind of integrated, immediate dynamic serves to bring to life the basic story of “The Tempest,” Shakespeare’s fantastical tale of love and revenge that unfolds on a deserted island. In the original show, the exiled nobleman and conjurer Prospero uses magical forces to exact revenge on those responsible for his plight. Slapstick comedy, action and even romance result.
Those core elements remain in “Forbidden Planet,” but a lot of other factors have changed. In lieu of a mystical island, Carlton shifts the setting to an alien planet. Mad scientists, space monsters and spaceships take the place of magicians, ogres and boats. Most important, all the action finds fuel in a soundtrack of rock ‘n’ roll standards from the ’50s and ’60s.
That musical dimension plays a major role in the show, as does choreography that melds 1950s sock hop, East Coast swing and Lindy Hop styles.