If you are even a casual fan of SpongeBob Squarepants then you will thoroughly enjoy the zany Broadway musical based on the cartoon character. The wacky world of Bikini Bottom and its denizens of the deep are lovingly reimagined for the stage, producing a wildly entertaining, splendiferous production.
Kudos, first and foremost, must go to director Tina Landau and her creative team—emphasis on the word creative—for their splashy, colorful and dazzling designs. They literally transform the interior and stage of the Palace Theatre into a vibrant and beauteous spectacle. David Zinn’s Scenic Design is peacocky gorgeous and outrageously inventive. The highlight is two towering Rube Goldberg-esque contraptions flanking the stage that, set into motion, deliver giddy results. His Costume Designs are equally inspired and flashy. Peter Nigrini’s Projection Design add a cartoony spirit to the production. The talents of Kevin Adams (Lighting Design) and Walter Trarbach (Sound Design) are indispensable in establishing the imaginative underwater realm. The sound effects produced by Mike Dobson (such as Sandy the Squirrel’s karate chops) add an idiosyncratic dimension to the show.
The story by Kyle Jarrow captures the whimsy, silliness, and outright lunacy of the animated series. He has incorporated a bevy of recognizable routines and characters to satisfy any fan. The writer has crafted a narrative that centers on a cataclysmic volcanic eruption set to destroy the underwater community of Bikini Bottom. Only one man, ah sponge, can come to the rescue and SpongeBob is up for the job as he recruits his friends to help save the day and gain a degree of respect at the same time.
The actors and actresses are so perfectly cast in their roles. They are led by Ethan Slater as SpongeBob. Squat, muscular and impossibly flexible, Slater has the look, goofiness and innocent laugh of the loveable TV creation. He brings out the childlike qualities of the character without being insipid or tiresome. His non-stop effervescence and sparkle anchors the musical.
Other standouts are Gavin Lee, woefully wonderful as Squidward. He is marvelously miserable as he wallows in self-pity. The performer supplies the most crowd-pleasing moment of the show with his high stepping tap number, “I’m Not a Loser.” Danny Skinner perfectly portrays the lug of a Starfish, Patrick, a good-natured dimwit and BFF of SpongeBob. Lilli Cooper is playfully appealing as Sandy, the no-nonsense squirrel living among the Bikini Bottom inhabitants. Wesley Taylor is fiendishly inept as the diabolic Sheldon Plankton.
The score of the show is by a variety of well-known and indie recording artists. They include original material from Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith, The Flaming Lips, Lady Antebellum, Cyndi Lauper, John Legend, and Panic! At the Disco. The songs are bouncy, tuneful, and catchy and are sung with a buoyant and earnest enthusiasm.
Tina Landau, who conceived and directed the production, has pulled out all the stops in fabricating a vision that is both artsy and commercial. Her out-of-the-box thinking and guidance creates another world full of wonder and merriment. She continuously fills the stage with all manner of underwater life that bounds from the performing area. She also made a smart choice of not dressing the actors in phony looking costumes, but to allow them, through voice, facial expressions, body language, and subtle costuming to create more three-dimensional characters.
The choreography by Christopher Gattelli is creatively energetic. The dance routines add even more fullness to a production that is overstuffed with innovation and schtick.
The one question yet to be answered is will audiences not familiar with SpongeBob and his mates flock to the musical? Much of the enjoyment of the show is seeing gags and routines from the cartoon reenacted on stage. Without a certain familiarity people could feel left out of the party-like atmosphere.
SpongeBob the Musical, an enchanting and loveable surprise this young Broadway season.