Though most of the people who love Return to the Forbidden Planet (and there are tons of them!) might think I'm crazy, I see real depth and substance in this show, underneath all the wackiness and wah-ooo's. The same is true of Bat Boy, Rocky Horror, Urinetown, and many of the crazier shows we've produced.
At the center of this tale is the biggest of all moral questions: should we restrict or block science, even when it crosses into moral gray area? It's a question that's also at the center of American moral debate right now.
In the musical, Dr. Prospero’s discovery of telegenesis (you'll have to see the show to find out exacty what that is) seems to him a great step forward for humankind, an expansion and extension of human consciousness greater than any that has come before. But he doesn’t foresee the inherent downside, that he would greatly intensify the mind’s power without also greatly increasing the mind’s ability to control itself.
In almost any endeavor, increasing power without increasing control usually leads to disaster. It’s a problem we keep bumping up against repeatedly as we evolve. But it's even worse when it comes to the Wild West of the human mind. Consider that old joke, “Don’t think about a pink elephant.” It’s nearly impossible to do because the mind is hard to consciously control. Strangely enough, that's at the center of the story of this show.
Consider this: Decades ago, we discovered nuclear power, but we still can’t control or contain it. The world’s greatest fear today is that Iran or North Korea or, worse yet, a band of rebel terrorists, will get hold of a nuclear bomb and use it. We increased our power without sufficient control over it.
We invented the internet, wildly expanding the reach of human consciousness, but with it came online predators, the loss of privacy, and the erosion of copyright laws through viral videos and file sharing. Again, we increased our power but not our control (although some believe, myself included, that the internet should not ever be controlled).
And two of our newest technologies, gene mapping and embryonic stem cell research already scare people who foresee human cloning and “designer babies.” Imagine how terrified they'd be if someone actually discovered telegenesis. This is the real issue at the heart of Return to the Forbidden Planet, and it’s why this story remains so fascinating. Dr. Prospero believes that Knowledge is Good, but he forgets that Knowledge is often Dangerous too.
Futuristic food for thought.
Long Live the Musical!