Penny Seats Theatre Company Presents “Return to the Forbidden Planet”

To get into the mood and motivations of his character, actor Cordell Smith has been watching classic sci-fi movies, including Star Trek. Smith is playing Captain Tempest in “Return to the Forbidden Planet,” a musical featuring classic 1950 and 1960s music.

“Return to the Forbidden Planet” is an extension of the movie “The Forbidden Planet,” which is also a retelling of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.” This production will be presented by the Penny Seats Theatre Company from August 3-19.

Director Tony Caselli, amongst the actors themselves, has worked with Shakespeare’s works for around 30 years, but now has the unique experience of mixing it with themes from major science fiction works.

“We’re having a great time trying to fit as many easter eggs into the show as we can,” Caselli said. “I think any other science fiction fans coming out will recognize a whole bunch of shows. […] But it also then blends a great story by Shakespeare.”

The musical includes a cast of 11 people, which is larger than the typical Penny Seats production. They will be performing at Burns Park in Ann Arbor.

“We’ve been diving in with the actors going ‘alright, here’s the part in the Shakespeare story, here’s the part we’re taking seriously,’ [and asking] ‘what do you want in this moment, what is your character fighting for,’” Caselli said. 

Even though the origin piece is “The Tempest,” the play does take in pieces of dialogue or ideas from other Shakespeare works.

“We’ve all been really trying to do justice to the language because it’s Shakespeare and it takes a bit more reading into the subtext in order to understand the meanings behind characters and their motivations,” Smith said.

Although this is Cordell’s first time working with Penny Seats Theatre Company, he describes this experience as “gratifying.” 

“It’s just an amazing opportunity to work with a group that I’ve never worked with,” Cordell said. “What I love about theater is that people who are involved all just have a common goal of making the production work and telling a story.”

The play can be characterized as a mixture of zany fun, music and ridiculousness. 

Everyone is so happy to be there and puts so much work into their art, which has made it super easy to just immerse myself in the show and have fun,” actress Ella Ledbetter-Newton said. “Everyone involved has also been so welcoming to me as a newcomer, so every rehearsal has been such a positive environment where I am not afraid to make mistakes and not afraid to give it 110% at all times. This show is very ridiculous and silly and I never feel embarrassed to act that way.”

Both Caselli and Smith hope that the audience is able to join them in leaving the real world behind for a few hours, sing or dance along to their favorite songs and just generally enjoy the production. 

“Theater can affect people because it really can just change your outlook for a little while,” Caselli said. “One of the goals when you produce a show like this is to just spread some joy, hope people show up, are able to laugh and when they leave, they are in a lighter and better place. And they take that energy and spread it out to the world around them.”

Purchase tickets and learn more about Return To The Forbidden Planet here.

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