‘SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical’ Review: Charming Stage Revival Of TV Series
SpongeBob SquarePants. It’s a name that the majority of the younger cluster of millennials can recognize in a heartbeat, and now it’s not just an animated television show, but a vivacious Broadway musical as well.
The production, directed by Tina Landau, opened Dec. 4 and is based on a book by Kyle Jarrow and features a symphonic array of original music and lyrics by a thrilling parade of acclaimed artists. Those singer-songwriters include Plain White T’s, David Bowie, Panic! at the Disco, The Flaming Lips, Sara Bareilles, Lady Antebellum and John Legend, among others.
The two-act musical — based on the ongoing children’s Nickelodeon series created by Stephen Hillenburg that began in 1999 —sees the eponymous enthusiastic yellow hero (played by 24-year-old Broadway newbie Ethan Slater) vying to save his underwater town of Bikini Bottom from annihilation after news breaks that a nearby volcano will erupt. (The volcano is located on Mount Humongous, a perfectly SpongeBob-ian epithet, for lack of a more accurate adjective)
All the major characters from the original series are present, including SpongeBob’s dimwitted yet loyal starfish best friend Patrick Star (a delightful Danny Skinner), the incredibly intelligent Texan squirrel Sandy Cheeks (Lilli Cooper, who sports an afro), and the cantankerous octopus Squidward Tentacles (Gavin Lee). Rounding out the town are Mr. Eugene Krabs (a mesmerizing Brian Ray Norris) — the avaricious owner of the burger joint the Krusty Krab that employs SpongeBob as a fry cook — his daughter Pearl Krabs the sperm whale (Jai’len Christine Li Josey, who boasts a powerful voice), boating instructor Mrs. Puff the pufferfish (Abby C. Smith), and the villainous Sheldon Plankton, (Wesley Taylor) who owns the Chum Bucket, a restaurant located across from the Krusty Krab as well as his computer wife Karen (Stephanie Hsu).
SpongeBob enlists the help of chubby Patrick’s “brawn” and Sandy’s scientific brain and martial arts skills to prevent the volcano from wiping out the aforementioned citizens of Bikini Bottom and several other of the aquatic town’s residents forever.
This musical proves to be exactly what the original series was and even more: a colorful, hilarious ride whose humor, catchy tunes and humongous heart will remain with audiences long after the final bows.
The production’s opening already draws viewers in by introducing the amicable Patchy the Pirate, (Jon Rua of Hamilton) the Encino, California resident who sang the series theme song and who attempts (twice) to escape the clutches of security guards to go see the SpongeBob musical in New York.
The continuous use of psychedelic props and set decorations, hi-jinks and several other hysterical gimmicks throughout the story, from the exposition to SpongeBob’s quest, add an absurdly entertaining facet to the production. Among these are sock puppets and a fish dressed in a burger costume to promote Mr. Krabs’ Krusty Krab campaign to advertise the imminent doomsday, the “apocalypse patty.”
Perhaps the most memorable numbers are SpongeBob and Patrick’s “BFF” (Plain White T’s) and Squidward’s “I’m Not a Loser” (They Might Be Giants). The adorableness and ridiculousness of the pair of tracks harken back to the innocent quality that made the TV show — which spawned two movies, The SpongeBob Squarepants Movie (2004) and The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water (2015) — exactly what it was: a silly kids’ tale.
Kelvin Moon Loh is also golden — though he appears only intermittently — as Perch Perkins, a glamorous and fear-mongering news reporter fish whom the shady female mayor of Bikini Bottom repeatedly tries to silence (the musical’s one reminder of America’s current political-journalistic dynamic).
Top if off with the inclusion of a few famous phrases from the original show (like Patrick’s “the inner machinations of my mind are an enigma,” the French narrator saying “one hour later”) and silly costumes, and SpongeBob Squarepants is a hit. Slater dons a yellow-striped collar shirt, a red tie, plaid trousers and suspenders to play the joyful protagonist, while Lee’s Squidward is given bright blue hair and pants with four legs (two behind him). Though Sandy’s astronaut costume from the series is replaced by a white track suit, the story’s lone land mammal — who faces discrimination for not being a sea creature — Cooper is phenomenal as the brilliant squirrel who proves sometimes outsiders are the biggest heroes.
One of the few changes that could have made SpongeBob even better: more greatly emphasizing Squidward’s trademark characteristics of being a narcissistic curmudgeon like he was on the series. Instead, the musical focuses more on his aspiring performer side, though the clarinet he often played on the show is virtually replaced by his wish to sing and dance.
The appearance of Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy, two superhero characters from SpongeBob and Patrick’s favorite TV show, would also have been amazing to witness.
Tom Kenny — who voiced SpongeBob on the show — returns to voice the aforementioned French narrator and also co-wrote one of the songs.
SpongeBob Squarepants may have disappeared from many young adults’ lives as an animated show at this point, but if you’re seeking to relive the days of watching your favorite characters from Bikini Bottom engage in shenanigans galore, this musical is the best way to do so.
“If nautical nonsense be something you wish, then drop on the deck and flop like a fish” says the theme song. Yes, we do desire this, and thank Hillenburg and the aquatic fauna gods for Bikini Bottom.
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