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Return to the Forbidden Planet

Return to the Forbidden Planet
Music Various
Lyrics Various
Book Bob Carlton
Basis Shakespeare's The Tempest
1950s film Forbidden Planet
Productions 1989 West End
1991 Off-Broadway
2009 St. Louis, MO
2015 Carlsbad, CA
Awards Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Musical

Return to the Forbidden Planet is a Jukebox musical by playwright Bob Carlton based on Shakespeare's The Tempest and the 1950s science fiction film Forbidden Planet (which itself drew its plot loosely from The Tempest). It was billed as Shakespeare's forgotten rock and roll masterpiece.

Return to the Forbidden Planet started life with the Bubble Theatre Company as a production for open-air performance in a tent. A revised version of the musical opened, indoors, at the Everyman Theatre in Liverpool in the mid-1980s.[1] It later moved to the Tricycle Theatre in London. After some rework a final version opened the Cambridge Theatre in London's West End in September 1989. It won the Olivier Award for Best New Musical for both 1989 and 1990.


  • Plot 1
    • Act 1 1.1
    • Act 2 1.2
  • Productions 2
  • Music 3
    • Songs featured 3.1
  • Awards and nominations 4
    • Original London production 4.1
  • References 5
  • External links 6


Act 1

The plot follows the crew of a routine survey flight under the command of Captain Tempest. After takeoff, Captain Tempest converses with the ship's new Science Officer, who is a woman, and they argue about the importance of men and women on earth. During their argument, the ship gets caught in a meteor shower. The Science Officer suggests that they use the shuttle craft and abandon ship, but Captain Tempest insists on flying through the storm. During the confusion, the Science Officer escapes the ship via shuttle craft. Their spaceship is drawn mysteriously to the planet D'Illyria where the crew meet mad scientist Doctor Prospero, who has been marooned on the planet since his wife and science partner Gloria sent him and their daughter Miranda into space. Doctor Prospero offers to help repair the broken starship and he, his daughter, and their robot Ariel come aboard. The ship's cook, Cookie, is instantly taken by Miranda's beauty and falls in love with her, a love he thinks she returns. In fact she has fallen in love with Captain Tempest, against the will of her father. During discussions about locating the missing Science Officer, Ariel reveals information about Doctor Prospero's new formula 'X Factor’, which can enhance the brain and mind. After an argument with his daughter over her love for the captain, Doctor Prospero takes the draught of 'X Factor'. Soon afterwards, the ship is attacked by a foul monster, but during the attack it is revealed that Ariel is in the airlock with the missing Science Officer. To save them both, Captain Tempest orders the airlock opened, which allows the monster to gain access to the ship. During the confusion of the attack it is revealed that the Science Officer is Doctor Prospero's wife Gloria, who is then taken by the monster, as its tentacles attack the rest of the ship.

Act 2

The story continues with the attack unfolding again, but this time Gloria isn't kidnapped by the monster, and Ariel the robot is able to attack the monster to make it retreat. After the attack, more is revealed about Doctor Prospero and Gloria's past. Captain Tempest puts Gloria under ship arrest for her crimes against her husband. She forms a quick alliance with Cookie, whom she persuades to release her and help steal the recipe for Doctor Prospero's 'X Factor' in exchange for helping him win over Miranda's heart. Gloria talks to Cookie, as Bosun, the ship's First Mate, talks to Captain Tempest about how to gain the love of Miranda. When the monster returns, it is revealed that it is created by Doctor Prospero's mind due to his having taken the 'X Factor'. Gloria tells Doctor Prospero that what she did to him was so that he could keep himself and their daughter safe from the 'X Factor'. Doctor Prospero has no choice but to leave the ship and sacrifice himself to save the others. Once Doctor Prospero has left, it is then revealed that D'Illyria is nothing other than a figment of Doctor Prospero’s imagination, as it starts to destroy itself once the doctor has died. The ship escapes. Once again in space Gloria blesses the union of Miranda and Captain Tempest, and Cookie is pardoned for his behaviour towards Miranda and Captain Tempest. The show ends with the entire crew safe and well with their Science Officer back and Captain Tempest with a new bride.


When the musical opened in Sydney, Australia, the beginning of a national tour, the pre-recorded narrator was Clive "Robbo" Robertson, who performed a futuristic parody of his own late-night TV news show, "Newsworld". A cast album was released in 1991 by ATA Records.

On September 27, 1991, an Off-Broadway production opened at in New York at the Variety Arts Theatre, a former nickelodeon movie theatre. Return to the Forbidden Planet was the first theatrical production in the new venue. A notable cast member was Julee Cruise, known to audiences from her role in Twin Peaks. The pre-recorded narrator was James Doohan, famous as "Scotty" from Star Trek. It played to mixed reviews, but was nominated for two Outer Critics Circle Awards. It closed on April 26, 1992 after 243 performances. A cast album was released in 1991 by Rhino Records.

The show was revived for touring productions in the United Kingdom in 1999, 2001 and 2002, featuring guest narration from Sir Patrick Moore. In 2003 the Brickhouse Theatre Company produced the musical in Cambridge at the Robinson College Auditorium. The musical was directed by Shahzad A. Jan and the guest narration was provided by Prof. Gerry F. Gilmore of the Institute of Astronomy at the University of Cambridge. A new production toured the UK in 2006 with the pre-recorded narrator being the astrophysicist and guitarist from Queen, Brian May. In Los Angeles, the ARK Theatre Company mounted a production of the musical, under the direction of Vanessa Claire Smith.[2]

New Line Theatre in St. Louis, MO staged the show in March 2009. Critic Paul Friswold of The Riverfront Times wrote about the production, “Bob Carlton's whimsical take on The Tempest as refracted through a 1950s sci-fi prism features a galaxy's worth of fantastic rock & roll songs, punning wordplays on snippets of Shakespearean monologues and intentionally ‘Pigs in Space’ costuming. But this is no parlor trick of a musical; there's a rich vein of Shakespeare's favorite ingredient — the wondrous depths of the human heart — that elevates the show from cunning stunt to artful meditation on the destructive nature of power and the redemptive power of love.”[3]

Bob Carlton has been the Artistic Director at the Queen's Theatre, Hornchurch, Essex, UK since the nineties. His final production at the theatre was fittingly of Return to the Forbidden Planet on 15 November 2014. This theatre has one of the last remaining through-cast repertory companies in the country. Here, as part of the rep season, "Return to the Forbidden Planet", was put on in August-September 2012, directed by Bob Carlton himself. Richard O'Brien appeared as the narrator, Musical Supervisor was Julian Littman, Musical Director Greg Last and Choreographer Frido Ruth.

Hornchurch 2012 Cast

Name Character
James Earl Adair Prospero
Simon Jessop Bosun
Greg Last Navigation Officer
Jane Milligan Gloria
Natasha Moore Miranda
Sean Needham Captain Tempest
Mark Newnham Cookie
Richard O'Brien Narrator
Fredrick Ruth (Frido Ruth) Ariel

In November 2014, the show returned to the Queen's Theatre, Hornchurch, Essex, UK for the a 25th anniversary prior to a UK Tour[4] in 2015

Carlsbad, CA 2015 Cast

Name Character
Manny Fernandes Prospero
Brian Butler Bosun
Morgan Carberry Navigation Officer
Marlene Montes Gloria
Kelly Christine Derouin Miranda
David Humphrey Captain Tempest
Charlie Gange Cookie
Kevane La'Marr Coleman Ariel


The high energy show features a bevy of 1950s and 1960s rock and roll classics, performed on stage by the cast. The campy sci-fi setting consists of silvered space suit costumes and space ship sets concealing keyboards and drums. The robot, Ariel, is performed by an actor on roller skates, with a costume reminiscent of the original movie's Robby the Robot. The show's dialogue is largely adapted from well-known passages from Shakespeare. There is a part for narrator on pre-recorded video which was played in the original production by Magnus Pyke and in the London production by the noted astronomer and TV personality Sir Patrick Moore. A cast album was released in 1990 by Virgin Records.[5]

Songs featured

Awards and nominations

Original London production

Year Award Category Nominee Result
1989 Laurence Olivier Award Best New Musical Won
Best Actor in a Musical Matthew Devitt Nominated


  1. ^
  2. ^ reviewReturn to the Forbidden PlanetCurtain Up -
  3. ^ New Line Theatre's RTTFP webpage
  4. ^ "UK Tour". Retrieved 10 November 2014. 
  5. ^ Amazon listing for the UK Cast CD

External links

  • US Licensing Details at Samuel French
  • UK Licensing Details at Josef Weinberger
  • New York Times review of Off Broadway production
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