Entertainment » Theatre

SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical

by Bobby McGuire
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Thursday Dec 7, 2017
Ethan Slater and the cast of "SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical"
Ethan Slater and the cast of "SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical"  (Source:Joan Marcus)

And the award for smartest silly idea for a show goes to "SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical."

At Broadway's Palace Theater these days, neon-colored pool noodles and solo cups form a giant coral reef in which parasols dance as jellyfish while accompanied by a hula band that frame a stage with giant dueling Rube Goldberg sculptures.

Sound like a lot? It is.

But wait, there's more -- a lot more.

Over the next two and a half hours, this psychedelic playground plays host to a host of characters that include a cantankerous squid, science-happy sea dwelling squirrel (don't ask), messianic starfish, corporate-greedy crab, napoleonic complexed plankton with his computer wife (I told you not to ask), a snail that goes "meow" and a yellow kitchen sponge wearing pants and a tie.

"SpongeBob SquarePants," Nickelodeon's perennial cartoon favorite of toddlers and stoners alike, has arrived on Broadway in what could be the most unlikely idea for a brilliant musical since Sondheim set cannibalism to song.

Set in the cartoon's fictional (duh) undersea community of Bikini Bottom, the musical "SpongeBob" tells the story a pineapple-dwelling perpetually optimistic fast-food worker sponge, who, along with his friends (a couch potato Starfish and Texan undersea squirrel), sets out to save their community from the soon-to-explode Mount Humongous -- a volcano on the ocean floor.

Sound dumb? It's not.

The musical touches on topical themes that run the gamut from science denial in the face of a looming natural disaster, to government inefficiency, the plight of refugees and xenophobia (the fish persecute the undersea land mammal -- again, don't ask). As satire goes, on the page this is some heavy stuff, but on the stage it is as gooey as saltwater taffy.

Adding to the anarchy is an original score by a diverse roster of some of pop and rock's biggest names who loaned their talents to give voices to the piscine ensemble; they include David Bowie, Panic at the Disco, Lady Antebellum, Cyndi Lauper, They Might Be Giants, and Sara Bareilles, to name-drop a few.

At the center of this circus is director Tina Landau, who also conceived the show. Keeping the cartoon's subversive sensibilities in at the forefront, Landau creates an evening that bombards the senses, challenges the funny bone and even tugs are the heart from time to time.

The cast is superb. Danny Skinner and Gavin Lee hit all the right marks as the cartoon counterparts, neighbors Patrick Star and Squidward Q. Tentacles. Lilli Cooper delivers a wonderfully understated performance as the closest thing this musical gets to a love interest, research squirrel Sandy Cheeks. Wesley Taylor is delightfully demonic as the Machiavellian Sheldon Plankton. And Kelvin Moon Loh as a one-fish cable news panic reporter Perch Perkins never fails to land a laugh.

Highest marks of the evening go to Ethan Slater in the title role. With an elastic perma-smile and glottis placed somewhere around his eyeballs, Slater inhabits the iconic cartoon hero while infusing him with humor (both sophisticated and toilet), and heart. Rarely has an actor been so perfect in a role.

But what seemed most remarkable about the evening is how it manages to get an audience of sophisticated Gothamites and first-time theatergoing tots all on the same page. This was exemplified in the second act when Squidward musically laments "I'm not a loser," to which a precocious child in the audience loudly replied: "Yes, you are."

Normally, this behavior would have induced more shushes than a convention of librarians, yet here it was embraced as part of the love-fest. "That kid's awesome," chuckled the stoners behind me. He was, they were, and so is "SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical."

"SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical" plays in an open-ended run at the Palace Theater, 1564 Broadway in New York City. For tickets and information, visit www.spongebobbroadway.com

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