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If Nautical Nonsense be Something You Wish, then head to Broadway for Spongebob Squarepants: The Broadway Musical!
By Tahlia Campbell
18 years after the porous yellow sponge first appeared on TV screens, Spongebob Squarepants is coming to Broadway in burst of nostalgia and talent. To bring the much-loved cartoon to life on stage, the creative team has brought in a multitude of big names to make the soundtrack pop with stellar numbers.
The book, written by Kyle Jarrow, is written exactly as an episode of the cartoon would be. The musical is a new adventure for Spongebob and friends, but it stays true to the source material in so many wonderful ways, making it a real treat for the millions of people who have grown up with the show near and dear to their hearts.
In the musical, a volcano threatens to destroy Bikini Bottom, and it’s up to Spongebob and his friends to stop it. The cast is made up of the characters we all know and love, as well as some new ones. The wacky sea-creatures get up to their old antics in this action-packed stage show, giving the audience plenty of easter eggs and in-jokes that will keep them laughing from the overture to the bows.
This musical is a joyous flashback for anyone who was a child of the 90’s. Familiar characters like Old Man Jenkins, Mrs Puff, Larry the Lobster and Patchy the Pirate make appearances alongside the main cast, and all of the character’s signature quirks are consistent, making it feel tailor-made to take the audience back to a more care-free time.
Costume designer David Zinn took care to make sure that the characters looked as cartoony on stage as the do on screen. The costumes capture the essence of the character in a delightfully creative way. Squidward has an extra pair of legs attached, facing the 90 degrees to his real legs to create his signature walk. Mr Krabs’ claws are created with big red boxing gloves, and Pearl is given extra height with her clunky platform shoes and voluminous hair.
Plankton and Karen, the show’s villains, are given especially creative costumes. While Plankton’s actor, Wesley Taylor, wears a slick green suit and an eyepatch, the other actors interact with a finger puppet modeled after the cartoon version of Plankton. Karen is Plankton’s computer wife, so on top of giving Stephanie Hsu a futuristic metallic outfit and a swish purple hairdo, she also has a prop computer with a bleeping screen to make her character shine. The use of puppetry in this show is an effective solution to characters that would be hard for actors to play otherwise.
Sound is also used to bring the cartoon into reality. The actors work with sound director (TK) to perfectly time sound effects, like squeaking of Spongebobs shoes every time he walks, the action-packed sound of a karate-chop, or the collection of random sounds like a screeching cat, and drum cymbals to signify a crash.
Adding to the auditory component of the show is the actors’ voices, many of which are uncanny in how much they sound like their characters. Ethan Slater has mastered Spongebob’s cheerful falsetto voice as well as his characteristic snore and laugh, embodying the ambitiously optimistic protagonist with endearing amount of goofiness and youthful energy. Gavin Lee encapsulates Squidward’s sarcastic pessimism with his monotonous, nasally voice.
Bringing vibrancy the the musical of Spongebob is a long list of A-list musicians who helped write songs for the soundtrack. Among these artists are Cyndi Lauper, Steven Tyler & Joe Perry of Aerosmith, Lady Antebellum, John Legend, Panic! At The Disco, The Plain White T’s, the original voice of Spongebob, Tom Kenny, and the late David Bowie.
Though the songs are written by a colorful variety of artists, the soundtrack fits together in a bright and energetic mixture of pop, metal, show tunes, and hip hop. No Control, the show’s sinister end-of-the-world number, is a reworking of a song by the same name by David Bowie and Brian Eno. Plain White T’s BFF is an upbeat and peppy anthem to friendship, and They Might Be Giant’s I’m Not a Loser is a typical flashy show tune complete with tap-dancing and sequins.
No expenses were spared on set design and props - visually, the show is a kaleidoscope of shapes and colors that shift and blend between scenes to bring the rich world of Bikini Bottom to life. The deep sea-blue backdrop is offset by vibrant magenta in the form of floating umbrellas that represent jellyfish. Stacked-up boxes that shift and move across the stage with the help of the ensemble create a volcano for Spongebob and Sandy to climb.
As much as Spongebob follows the cartoon, there’s a surprising amount of heart in the musical. The show takes a turn into the sincere during (I Guess I) Miss You, a ballad between Spongebob and Patrick that gives the actors a chance to let their voices shine in a more serious scene. It’s hard not to be affected by the messages of friendship and hope that resonate so strongly through the musical, and you wouldn’t be blamed for getting a little teary-eyed.
At the core of the Spongebob Musical is the human nature that resides in all of the characters. Director Tina Landau wanted to ensure that the actors were playing people, rather than 2-dimensional characters. The show caters to fans of the cartoon who want to see their favorite characters onstage, but then it builds upon those characters to give them very human ambitions and dreams.
On the surface, it’s a fun and wacky adventure, but there is also some deeper commentary on human nature. It shows the way people can change under pressure and how easy it is to take the easy way out, but it also reminds its audience how important it is to stay optimistic and see the best in life, even when the world is falling apart. Maybe it’s strange that a musical about a cartoon sponge has cultural relevance, but it could be just what the world needs.
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