Rehearsals continue apace...
When I first read the Forbidden Planet script, I knew this was one of those shows that reads well, but not nearly as well as it plays. I could tell that as much fun as it was to read (truly laugh-out-loud funny), much more coolness would reveal itself once the show got up on its feet. The same was true of Rocky Horror, Bat Boy, Nervous Set, High Fidelity, and many of the shows we've produced.
It's certainly true of Forbidden Planet. As we block Act I we find such richness in the characters and such intelligence in the comedy. We realized this week that the male characters are all just full of rabid 1950s sexism, trying to cram their women into the 50s most restrictive categories -- either virgin or whore, nothing in between. It's a phenomenon we see illustrated in Grease, Rocky Horror, The Nervous Set, and other shows that comment on those times. But it's extra-funny in this context because this is a 1950s view of the future, so here the future takes on the regressive social politics of the mid-20th century.
We also realized that the show consciously subverts the usual 1950s heroic spaceship captain character by making Capt. Tempest utterly incompetent, ill-prepared, and an all-around terrible leader. He fights with his science officer (who happens to be a woman), he panics in the face of danger, and he's terrible at making decisions. He is the average 1950s American -- baffled by technology, scared of what he doesn't understand, and held back by a hermetically closed mind.
But we also discovered the feel of this show, the energy of it, the pacing, the heightened acting style, the incredibly high stakes for these characters, and so much more. We're having so much fun!
The hardest challenge is meshing these three seemingly incompatible storytelling forms: Shakespeare, 50s sci-fi, and rock and roll. I told the cast they have to really be rock stars when they sing, to find the rawness and sexuality and emotion of these classic rock songs; but at the same time they have to be the same character in the same style whether they're singing rock and roll or speaking the "Fakespeare" lines, all while living convincingly in this sci-fi universe. That's not easy -- but even after only two blocking rehearsals, they're already finding that common ground where all three elements come together.
With some of our more unusual shows, it takes a while for the actors to figure out how this particular universe sounds and moves. Usually, I have to convince them that I know where we're going and they can trust that I'll take care of them. That was true of Urinetown, Anyone Can Whistle, The Cradle Will Rock, and lots of others. But this time, the whole cast seems so tuned in to the material, even at this early stage, and that will make the whole process easier and a lot more fun...
This isn't an easy show to bring to life -- it's such a unique and complex piece of theatre, and it's got fairly serious undertones that can't be allowed to get in the way of the wackiness (much like Urinetown) -- but we're really on the right road. And everybody seems delighted to be traveling that road together.
The fun is only beginning. I predict that this will be one of those shows the whole cast will hate to close on May 23. I know I will.
Long Live the Musical!