Entering the James F. Dean Theater in Summerville for the premiere of the Flowertown Players’ Return to the Forbidden Planet, I was greeted by a handful of cheery flight attendants sporting bright blue uniforms and orange wigs straight out of The Fifth Element. As the play began, they provided comedic “in-flight instructions,” including the warning that cell phone usage would initiate spontaneous combustion. It was an excellent prologue to the rock ‘n’ roll musical, and it generated excitement throughout the theater.
The performance started off strong, but immediately there were seemingly trivial flaws that quickly proved distracting. While the set was large and detailed, the black-box-inspired venue was not well-suited for a musical. The brick walls seemed to absorb all sounds, and even sitting as close as the sixth row, I had a hard time hearing much of the dialogue. When performing a piece as convoluted as Forbidden Planet — where a group of rocking space-travelers stumble upon a mad doctor and his beautiful daughter stranded on a deserted planet — a sound-friendly venue is a must. Otherwise the audience will just nod their heads and pretend to follow along.
The costumes were also an issue. Many of them were ill-fitting, and instead of providing a sense of character identity, it simply reminded me that I was watching a performance.
However, the troupe really shone when they joined forces. The group vocals were much stronger than the solos, and the dance numbers were also well rehearsed. But again, the small venue limited the choreography, and a piece that contains dance numbers and such a commanding amount of characters really needs a much larger space that what the Players had to work with.
The effort of the actors is what really made the evening. There were very few breaks in character, enthusiasm was flowing, and the punch lines were all hit perfectly. A quirky performance by John Black as the lovable cook “Cookie,” along with John Melfi’s bizarre “Doctor Prospero” were the most enjoyable. A few personal touches by Director Emma Scott, including an unexpected nod to Guitar Hero, also helped create solid audience connections.
While the players performed with a valiant effort, the small venue and poor acoustics stole the show. Community theaters often have to made do with limited resources, and it was unfortunate to see the Flowertown Players' efforts thwarted by small but critical technicalities.