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Cappies: Francis Howell takes off to 'Forbidden Planet'

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 14, 2012 - What happens when Shakespeare meets Star Trek? You get "Return to the Forbidden Planet," a 1989 satirical comedy written by Bob Carlton. Dubbed a jukebox musical, it is a funky hybrid of Shakespeare's "The Tempest" and the 1950s science fiction flick "Forbidden Planet." Recently performed by Francis Howell High School, this zany musical is a rollicking good time, an out of this world adventure.

The show follows Captain Tempest and his faithful crew as they venture to the far reaches of the universe to a place known as the Forbidden Planet. On their journey, they encounter Dr. Prospero and his fair daughter Miranda, who readily becomes smitten with the noble Captain. This dangerous space voyage is filled with monsters, love triangles, revenge, robots, laughs and lots and lots of dancing.

Nic Branson really stole the show as the chivalrous and cocky Captain Tempest. His great stage presence and unfailing characterization helped the character take on a life of its own. Ashley Unland acted well as the fair and confused love bird Miranda. Unland reacted well to the other characters and used her sweet vocals in "Hey Mr. Spaceman."

Michelle Adzido, as the fierce and determined Gloria, displayed her powerful pipes in songs like "Tell Her." Code Power made a good, slightly evil Dr. Prospero and sang catchy tunes like "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood." The two actors who drew the most laughs from the audience were Larry Guessfeld as the dorky yet lovable ship hand Cookie and Aurielle Macchi as the snarky robot Ariel.

The set of the show was well crafted to look like a spaceship, with a secret fog machine, projector screens, blinking lights and stellar sliding doors. The costumes were simple but effective, fitting each character well, and while it would have been nice for a variation in makeup to show contrasting ages of characters, the makeup overall was good. The lighting was generally smooth in execution, but the sound was inconsistent. The sound system had general rough spots like most high school sound systems do, but it seemed that the few characters who were miked were uneven and the actors whose voices needed assistance were not miked at all.

A clever pre-show monologue and spunky opening number immediately got the audience involved in the story, but from there the energy sloped off. The energy lagged until the second act opened with a powerful number and then dipped again until the brilliant finale in which everyone shone. Spitting out tricky Shakespearean lines is not easy, and unfortunately it was diction that troubled most of the cast. Lack of consistent diction and projection made it sometimes difficult to follow the plot, but the actors pulled through in the end to tell their story. While some of the choreography and musical numbers looked a tad under-rehearsed, everyone really stepped it up in the latter half of the musical.

Overall Francis Howell's show was an otherworldly performance whose quirky characters, rockin' set, and solid final number, created a memorable show.

About the Cappies

The Critics and Awards Program for high school theater -- known as Cappies -- was formed in the aftermath of the Columbine shooting to celebrate writing and performing arts at America's high schools. It operates chapters across the nation.

St. Louis' program was launched in 2002-03. At the end of the year, the top performers, technicians and reviewers are honored during a Tony-style gala.

The Beacon is happy to help spread the word by printing some reviews.

Grace Malinee is a student at Holt High School.