Tempest in a Spaceship: RTC Goes Back to the Future

By Steven Libowitz   |   October 25, 2018

Bringing Return to the Forbidden Planet back to the Rubicon Theatre just two years after the Ventura debut of the hit early-1990s jukebox musical based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest and the 1956 science fiction film Forbidden Planet was a case of a trite theater cliché actually turning out to be true.

“It very definitely is by popular demand,” said director Kirby Ward, who also helmed the earlier production at Rubicon Theatre Company (RTC). “People came out of the theater after seeing it two years ago and told us they were ready to see it again right away. The audience truly did ask us to do it again. Of course, we’re thrilled.”

Ward has previously directed or performed in more than 65 theatrical productions and concerts, from Las Vegas showrooms to London’s West End – where he received a “Best Actor” Olivier Award nomination for the premiere of Crazy for You – to the Rubicon stage, where he and his wife, Beverly Ward, a new-ish associate producer at RTC, have acted and also teamed up for a couple of appearances in the Broadway cabaret series. But even he has rarely had such a good time near a stage, and he has no illusions about why Return to the Forbidden Planet is such a crowd-pleaser.

“It’s a huge amount of fun,” he said. “I call it a ‘real trip’ because it actually takes the audience on a trip into outer space. We turn the theater into a spaceship, the entire environment. You’re going on a scientific survey into the galaxy, but with so many crazy elements and lots of laughs that make for a really good time.”

Winner of the Olivier Award for Best Musical, the campy send-up of sci-fi films and TV shows of the 1950s and 1960s melds plot elements from The Tempest with language from multiple other plays by Shakespeare, and mixes in a booster rocketful of rock-and-roll classics of the same era as the film, from surf hits like “Wipeout” to “Good Vibrations,” “Great Balls of Fire,” “All Shook Up,” and “Monster Mash.” One of the clever aspects of the musical is that while the character names are drawn from The Tempest, their storyline is more of an homage to the film, with nearly all of the dialog drawn directly from Shakespeare’s own words, albeit with a few words updated to fit the scenario.

When the captain first sees the romantic interest, Miranda, appear in the spaceship’s entry port, he utters, “But soft, what light through yonder airlock breaks?” – a modern-day Romeo first spying his Juliet.

“The audience really enjoys seeing how many famous lines from the plays they can pick up on,” Ward said. “There’s a lot of ’em. That’s a big part of the wacky fun.”

The more interesting challenge for the director was coming up with a concept to weave all the disparate elements together in a conceivable way. Working with the set designer, Ward conceptualized the spaceship’s environment, how it operated, along with its parts and characters. “All to explain why there’s surf tunes and sixties music and Shakespeare happening on stage while still following the storyline. We had to create our own set of laws within the spaceship about how to do things, and train the actors – who also all play the instruments – to be consistent in the environment.

“So, the reason the actors play ‘Wipeout’ as the ship takes off in the beginning, is because the energy they put into the drums guitar and bass is what is powers the craft into space. We try to keep that idea going throughout. So, when the power source is fading later, they have to repair it by playing better and with more intensity.”

Of course, you don’t have to care about internal logic to enjoy the show, read Shakespeare, or have seen Forbidden Planet to enjoy Return, Ward said. “It’s just a whole lot of campy fun, with music and sci-fi effects all put together in a big theater spoof. What’s more fun that that?”

(Return to the Forbidden Planet runs Wednesdays through Sundays through November 4. Call 805-667-2900 or visit rubicontheatre.org.) 

Spinning a Yarn

The Ojai Storytelling Festival has been either on hiatus or truncated in recent years, but the big blast of blarney and tons of true tales has returned for 2018 in a big way. The fest launched a touring version, which played UCSB’s Campbell Hall last Sunday as a preview to the main event, which takes place this Thursday-Sunday, October 25-28, back up in the mountain village.

The festival, now in its 18th year, is the signature event of Performances To Grow On, a non-profit public benefit organization that also produces concerts and other family events from Ojai to Thousand Oaks during the academic year. But it all comes together for the festival, which this year features acclaimed storytellers Diane Ferlatte, Kevin Kling, Willy Claflin, Clare Murphy, Glenis Redmond, Scott Ainslie, the Chameleons – many of whom double in such areas as poetry, song, and even mime – plus the winner of The Moth from Los Angeles.

Claflin, who has been featured at the National Storytelling Festival, dozens of regional festivals, and hundreds of schools nationwide, is back for his third visit to the festival, and is bringing along his best buddy, Maynard Moose, the puppet that helps him tell his tales via vocabulary peppered with non-words as entry into his imaginative world. Claflin sojourned his way through yarn-spinning via his father’s tales and his own active mind, and has a lot of different approaches, including fractured fairy tales that are head-turningly clever.

“I’m so eclectic in what I do, so there’s always a lot to choose from,” he said over the phone. “But there’s the moose. Maynard is omni-present, for better or worse. I’m joined at the hip with the moose.”

And that’s just one of the odd angles available at The Ojai Storytelling Festival. As author and storyteller Carmen Deedy once said, ““The Ojai festival is to storytelling what Sundance is to film. If it’s rare and magical and quirky… you’ll find it at this wondrous gem of a festival.”

Details, storyteller bios, ticket packages, and more information are available online at www.ojaistoryfest.org or call (805) 628-2574. 

A Century of CAMA

It’s frightfully fitting that Community Arts Music Association’s 100th anniversary season commences with the Los Angeles Philharmonic this Sunday afternoon, as not only is the renowned orchestra celebrating its own centennial in 2018-19, the ensemble is also the reason why CAMA was founded, and has been the cornerstone concert of each CAMA season since, 250 performances in all over the years. The L.A. Phil’s stature has risen significantly over the years to where it’s now considered one of the world’s finest orchestras, and yet we still get to see them annually in our own esteemed Granada Theatre.

CAMA is putting on some fanfare for Sunday’s season kickoff, with guests walking the red carpet and enjoying food and wine, plus a display of historic posters and the chance to be among the first to view the organization’s centennial video. When 4 pm rolls around, L.A. Phil assistant conductor Paolo Bortolameolli takes the podium to wield the baton for Saint-Saens’s Piano Concerto No. 5 in F major, Op.103, “Egyptian,” with renowned French pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet (a frequent Santa Barbara visitor) as soloist, followed by Beethoven’s ever-popular Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op.67. (Originally, the concert was British conductor Daniel Harding’s all-Austrian program of Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 4 and Masaot/Clocks without Hands by contemporary Austrian composer Olga Neuwirth.)

CAMA centennial season includes 11 more concerts featuring some of the world’s finest orchestras and recitalists, including pianist Richard Goode, violinist Itzhak Perlman, the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, the Russian National Orchestra, London’s Philharmonia Orchestra, and cellist Mischa Maisky, among others. There’s also a special free community concert at The Granada Theatre on Tuesday, December 11, featuring the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and mandolin soloist Avi Avital performing an all-Vivaldi program. Tickets and complete season information is available online at http://camasb.org.

Noontime Opera Concert

Ojai, Santa Maria, Oxnard, Ventura, and Solvang all came first on the calendar for this year’s run of free Noontime Concerts at local public libraries and museums featuring Opera Santa Barbara’s new class of artists in residence. But the young singers who will be in residence through May 2019 to perform small roles and cover principal artists in the opera’s three mainstage productions this season, La Bohème (Nov. 9-11), Eugene Onegin (March 1-3), and The Crucible (April 26/28), are winding up this initial run right back here in town, fully experienced via their half-dozen endeavors elsewhere. The 2018-19 Chrisman Studio Artists – mezzo-soprano Ashley Armstrong, tenor Michael Killmorgen, soprano Jennifer Lindsay, and baritone Yazid Gray – will perform art songs and arias in the one-hour concert at 12 pm Wednesday, October 31, at Faulkner Gallery in the downtown Public Library, 40 East Anapamu Street.

Aw, Hell: We’ll be Jones-ing for More

There are any number of reasons for the demise of Sings Like Hell (SLH), the singer-songwriter series that staged monthly concerts at the Lobero Theatre from 1997 through this past April. The national economy, fallout from fires and floods, competition from other venues (including an amped up approach to acoustic music at SOhO and a dedicated series of singer-songwriter concerts produced by the Lobero itself), a dearth of interest in live music from “unknowns” in the wake of zillions of stations of streaming opportunities and YouTube, et cetera. But rather than mourn as the Lobero presents Eliza Gilkyson & Nina Gerber + Eric Brace, Peter Cooper & Thomm Jutz in what was once booked as an SLH concert this Saturday night, October 27, it’s more a time to celebrate the series’ accomplishments.

Creator Peggie Jones had the vision of a pop music subscription series to fill the gap at the Lobero when its own theater company unexpectedly folded, and it’s truly astounding just how successful and forward-thinking Sings Like Hell turned out to be. Artists were invariably surprised not only by the rock-star treatment and exposure to up to 600 fans who were actually listening to them in an acoustically superior hall, but audiences discovered the delights of hearing music in a quiet environment where talking during songs was verboten and the focus was on the music. That created a symbiotic experience where each fed off the other, the musicians delivering inspired sets to an audience that lapped them up, the connection growing within and between each show.

As its reputation spread, that’s partly why Sings Like Hell was able to premiere local performances by The Avett Brothers, Damien Rice, Lake Street Dive, Jason Isbell, Rufus Wainwright, among many others, and attract such acts with normally genre-specific audiences as Mose Allison, Van Dyke Parks, Doc Watson, Guy Clark, Joe Ely, Jesse Winchester, and Rodney Crowell. Artists who could have sold out much larger venues also stopped by, including Jackson Browne and David Crosby (both of whom were also subscribers), Tracy Chapman, Randy Newman, Jeff Bridges, and John Hiatt.

Saturday’s special show is a fitting finale, as Gilkyson is a two-time Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter and activist whose songs have been covered by Joan Baez (who plays the Arlington next Thursday, November 1, as part of her farewell tour), Bob Geldof, Tom Rush, and Rosanne Cash and whose newest release, Secularia, is a collection of spiritually charged songs that would normally not draw large audiences. Gilkyson is great, but again not a household name, a perfect bow from the series that boasted about presenting “The greatest music you’ve never heard.”

As the series says sayonara, there’s a party with the artists and Peggie Jones out front after the show in Sings Like Hell style. 

Halloween Happenings

Friday, October 26: Scaryoke at Alcazar findsSuperstoked playing live music for the Halloween edition of Live Band Karaoke at the Alcazar Theatre in Carpinteria, with host Michael Avery giving special attention to those in costume. (7:30 to 10 pm; $10)… Ty one on: Resident DJ Darla Bea spins sets of Latin hits for the annual Dia de los Muertos celebration at Ty Lounge at the Four Seasons Resort Biltmore in Montecito, an evening that features dancing and a costume contest. 7 pm to 12 am; free)… Frankenstein’s Ghoul Ball: Santa Barbara Public Library hosts an all-ages event celebrating SB Reads with music by DJ Orbs and prizes for costumes in the categories of Frankenstein-Themed and The Romantic Era. (6:30 to 8:30 pm; free). 

Saturday, October 27: MesaHalloween FallFest at La Mesa Park features a Halloween Costume Contest for all ages with prizes for the best costume for kids, teens & adults, music & games by DJ Scott Topper, a bouncy house for the little ones, a live band, food trucks, face painting, and more (noon to 3 pm; free)… Voodoo Lounge’s 7th Annual Halloween Dance Party takes over Viva Modern Mexican in La Arcada with entertainment by Topper, special dance performances from La Boheme (doing “Thriller”) and others, palm readers, a haunted Action Photo Booth, cash prize costume contest, Instagram contest, and the Voodoo Altar, with proceeds benefiting Family Service Agency. (9 pm to 1 am; $45)… Halloween Hilarity: Rubicon Theater actress-director Bonnie Hellman, who had a featured role in the original film Friday the 13th, joins the Ventura Improv Company as special guest artist for special scary comedy sketches based on audience suggestions. Admission includes caramel apples and tricks and treats in the downstairs reception room after the show. (7 pm; $20)… Tales & Scales: Creep and slither around in your Halloween costume while participating in such thrilling and chilling activities at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center as touching a Moon Jelly, watching Sea Center divers uncover the shadowy underwater world beneath Stearns Wharf, and observing the mysteries of the deep during live video feeds from the Exploration Vessel Nautilus. (10 am to 3 pm; free with admission)… ZOMBiEPROM!: Crowded Coffin Productions hosts a massive concert – with bands ranging from Disrupted Euphoria and DTEASE to Slanted Land and Thrash Commander, and others – plus a live painting, games including cornhole, silly contests, SkullZONES (calzones in the shape of skulls), haunted maze, apple bobbing, fortune teller, and fire performers, at 926 Indio Muerto Street (6:30 pm to 3 am; www.facebook.com/events/1072360242914817).

Sunday, October 28: Día de los Muertos: Casa de la Guerra hosts a “Day of the Dead” free family craft day and exhibit where visitors can decorate sugar skulls and create block prints, tin art and more, plus enjoy traditional food such as pan de muerto (bread of the dead) and Mexican hot chocolate (noon-3 pm; free)… Monsters on Broadway: Out of the Box Theatre Co. brings Frankenstein to life with performances from monstrous musicals Rocky Horror Picture Show (which OTC produced recently) and Young Frankenstein. It’s got nothing to do with OTC’s upcoming production of Amelie, the Musical at Center Stage next month, but it’s a great chance to see them for free at the Central Public Library. (2 to 3 pm; free). 

Monday, October 31: Silent Halloween Costume Party M8RX Nightclub & Lounge will be a lot quieter than normal, and not because ghosts and goblins are haunting the place. That’s because rather grooving to music blaring music through amps and speakers, attendees will don wireless headphones and turn them to channels programmed by three DJs competing for attention as they alternately spin EDM, pop or hip-hop tracks. Boogie on the dance floor amidst other revelers dancing to whatever’s in their headphones, or turn down the volume of the headphones or take them off to chat or otherwise connect. (9:30 pm to 2 am; $15).


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