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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: ‘Forbidden Planet' Musical Is Outta This World in De Pere

Play-by-Play Theatre/St. Norbert College Music Theatre

DE PERE, Wis. (WFRV) -  

Hybrid vigor is at play in “Return to the Forbidden Planet,” running to June 23 in Webb Theatre of Abbot Pennings Hall of Fine Arts at St. Norbert College.

Hybrid vigor creates something robust.

The hybrid in this case: Science fiction meets William Shakespeare meets old-time rock ‘n’ roll meets movie history meets iambic pentameter meets comic bookish characters meets outer space meets tons of puns meets live performance meets video meets actors as pickup musicians meets, meets, meets, etc.

Even the production entity is a hybrid: St. Norbert College Music Theatre (starting its 57th season) meets Play-by-Play Theatre (a local company in its fifth).

“Return to the Forbidden Planet” is camp in the old-fashioned sense of the word – a fun-minded sendup with a heap of theatricality to go along with an aura of colorful playfulness, starting with the set and costuming.

The set: A mockup of the interior of a spaceship, called the USS Webb. (The show takes place in the Webb Theatre, so that’s the first name drop of the production). The spaceship includes an air lock, control panel (which behaves remarkably like an electronic musical keyboard) and a screen to see space debris and assorted characters in and around the story. Oh, and up above is the Klystron Generator that springs into audience-activated reverse polarity in case of emergency.

The costuming: Most is a take on the coveralls seen on spaceship crews in sci-fi flicks/TV series, with a major take on the kid-beloved character from the movie “Forbidden Planet,” Robbie the Robot. This costume is serious work, with all sorts of inventive, robot-type, metallic-looking attachments to fit the tall Aaron C. Reynolds, who adds to the character by not only covering his skin in metal-like paint but performing on roller skates. That right there is a definition of camp on the hoof – or wheels, to be exact.

There is a story in all this. It takes a bit to decipher through the haze of mutated iambic pentameterisms. One interpretation: The home turf of Shakespeare’s Prospero from “The Tempest” is visited, Prospero in this case morphed into a mad scientist (vs. a wronged and brilliant being). Woven in to help tell the story of love surrounding the innocent Miranda are songs that once filled the airwaves that are sung (often with color) with some original lyrics and some adapting (the hybrid thing).

The performance is a bit festive. The players have fun. All the tongue-in-cheek stuff becomes catching. On opening night Wednesday, director Mary Ehlinger’s company wound up the crowd to a standing ovation and cheers at the end.

Key players have been around and bring some extra zip – David Gusloff as the knowingly dashing Captain Tempest, Parker Drew as the tainted Dr. Prospero, Michael Blair as the love-smitten Cookie, Corrie Kovacs as the perky Miranda and Emily Terrell Paulsen as the evil Science Officer who lights up bluesy songs.

The hybrid thing carries through to the presentation of music. There is a band of four, but practically everybody else gets into the act by picking up an instrument or singing backup for whatever a song calls for.

Ain’t been nothing like this show put together by any local companies around these parts. Most of all, to me, it harkens to times past when spoofs could be spoofs and taken as light-hearted.


Creative: Book, lyrics, music – Bob Carlton; producers – Paul Mashl, Kent Paulsen, Michael Rosewall, Stephen Rupsch; director/music director – Mary Ehlinger; scenic design/technical director – Corey Allan Pinchart; lighting designer – Andrew Schmitz; costume design – Erica Peters; props designer – Patricia Grimm; sound engineer – Chris Gabryszek; stage manager – Kaitlin Honkanen; assistant to the director – Michelle Oren; assistant technical director – Brittney Roffers

Cast: Captain Tempest – David Gusloff; Dr. Prospero – Parker Drew; Ariel – Aaron C. Reynolds; Cookie – Michael Blair; Science Officer – Emily Terrell Paulsen; Bosun Arras – Carolyn Silverberg; Navigation Officer – Amy Wright; Miranda – Corrie Kovacs; Newscaster (video) – Frank Hermans; The little Miranda (video) – Eliza Petty; Ensign Betty Will – Amy Halbmaier; Ensign Axel Rhodes – Tony Pesavento; Ensign Dane G. Russ – Dustin Skenandore; Ensign Earl E. Warning – Tony Giovannini

Running time: One hour, 35 minutes

Remaining performances: 7:30 p.m. June 14, 15, 16; 2:30 p.m. June 17; 7:30 p.m. June 20, 21, 22; 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. June 23



Song selections

“Wipe Out” – David Gusloff

“It’s a Man’s Man’s World” – Emily Terrell Paulsen

“Great Balls of Fire” – All

“Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” – Parker Drew

“Good Vibrations” – David Gusloff, Corrie Kovacs

“The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s in His Kiss)” – Michael Blair, Corrie Kovacs

“I’m Gonna Change the World” – David Gusloff, Parker Drew

“A Teenager in Love?” – Corrie Kovacs

“Young Girl” – David Gusloff

“She’s Not There” – Michael Blair

“Shakin’ All Over” – David Gusloff, Corrie Kovacs, Parker Drew

“Gloria” – Emily Terrell Paulsen and All

“Tell Her” – Emily Terrell Paulsen

“Robot Man” – Corrie Kovacs

“Shake, Rattle and Roll” – Aaron C. Reynolds

“Go Now” – Emily Terrell Paulsen

“Wipeout” – All

“Mister Spaceman” – Corrie Kovacs

“Monster Mash” – Parker Drew

Finale – All


THE VENUE: The 184-seat Neil and Mary Webb Memorial Theatre is the smaller of two theaters in St. Norbert College’s Abbot Pennings Hall of Fine Arts. The space has an amphitheater feel with its sloped seating area. The stage is one-of-a-kind thrust stage, meaning it “thrusts” into the audience space. A traditional proscenium stage has a flat front and usually has curtains. A trust stage rarely uses curtains. People in front rows can practically reach out and touch performers when the performers are on the stage lip. Any seat in the theater is close to the action.

THE PEOPLE: Neil and Mary Webb were husband and wife. Neil Webb was president of St. Norbert College from 1973 to 1983. He earlier headed the St. Norbert psychology department. He left academics for a while before becoming president of Dominican College in California. In December 1987, Neil and Mary Webb died in an airplane crash in California in an act of sabotage by a disgruntled employee. That was shortly before the Hall of Fine Arts was to be remodeled with a small theater in the plans. Neil Webb had a lot of friends in the community and had the reputation, so his name was used to raise funds for the theater.

Contact me at Watch for my on-air Critic at Large editions on WFRV-TV at 6:20 a.m. Sundays.

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