Rocky Horror Sci-Fi Show

The English musical Return to the Forbidden Planet arrives here with an Olivier Award (the British Tony), one of the biggest budgets ever seen off-Broadway and a broad comic field to mess around in. Loosely modeled after the B-movie "Forbidden Planet" (itself based on "The Tempest"), and staged in a newly converted porn theater done up as a spaceship, the show mixes Shakespeare with rock-and-roll songs, cavorting knowingly in the junk culture in between. There's a mind-expanding drug called X, some tortured Shakespeare ("Two beeps or not two beeps," the captain asks his communications officer), a cameo by Scotty from "Star Trek" and, at the show's zenith, a roller-skating robot who ties up "Twin Peaks" singer Julee Cruise with his microphone cord as he sings "Who's Sorry Now."

What's missing is a sense of adventure. The show is content to quote from pop culture without really sending it up. Apart from the roller-skating robot, there's no farcical excess to this farce, no smarty-pants gutter wit to replace the highbrow wit the show topples. On global terms, "Return" is the triumph of American idiocy (B movies, rock music) over snooty British high culture. But there's no triumph here-not in the indifferent readings of overfamiliar songs, not in the tame B-movie spoofs that seem less campy than the movies themselves. In the end, both cultures lose out, and even idiocy gets a bad name.