Tag Archives: Stephen Hillenburg

Nr 460: The SpongeBob Musical (2016)

6 Jan

Chicago: 2016
Broadway: 2017 (327 perf.)
Tv version: 2019

Book: Kyle Jarrow, based on SpongeBob SquarePants by Stephen Hillenburg
Music & Lyrics: David Bowie, Brian Eno, Panic at the Disco, Tom Kitt, Jonathan Coulton, Cyndi Lauper, Rob Hyman, Alex Ebert, Sara Bareilles, Andy Paley, Tom Kenny, Lady Antebellum, Yolanda Adams, The Flaming Lips, John Legend, Steven Tyler, Joe Perry, Plain White T’s, T.I., They Might Be Giants

Just so you know, if you’re not a SpongeBob fan, it all takes place underwater.
The story: SpongeBob, a relentlessly cheery fast-food worker with self-esteem issues, learns that his beloved Bikini Bottom is in danger of being destroyed by an undersea volcano called Mount Humongous that’s threatening to blow sky-high. So he, his BFF Patrick Star, a starfish, and the brilliant scientist Sandy Cheeks, a squirrel (don’t ask), must come up with a plan to save their world.
Among the obstacles on the path to hero-hood: xenophobic prejudice (Sandy is disdained as a mammal), the bureaucratic paralysis of the mayor, panic-rousing media coverage and the villainous obstructions of the evil Sheldon Plankton and his wife, Karen the Computer.

I actually thought I was going to hate this musical. I mean come on, SpongeBob the Musical???? And because the cast album contained songs by a lot of different pop composers I also thought this was something of a juke box musical.
But, boy, was I wrong!
Nickleodeon, the cable channel for kids where SpongBob the animated series airs, brought a live version of the Broadway show to our home screens.
Lucky us! For this is an absolute marvel of a show. Just 5 minutes in and I was hooked. The music is so good, the sets and costumes are amazing, the cast is perfect down to the smallest planktons and sardines and the choreography is utterly brilliant. I was totally enthralled.
The show is totally bonkers – in a very good way. Don’t let adult thoughts of ”that isn’t even logic” or ”this is so unrealistic” disturb you from enjoying this show. Indulge yourself in the madness and pleasures of Bikini Bottom (just that name, aargh, love it, and yes they make fun of it in the show). Do what I did: I just sat in my recliner and laughed, cheered and even shed a little tear.
This show is so sunny, positive and life affirming, just what we need right now.
The cast album was on repeat in my flat for a long, long time afterwards. And every time I feel a little blue I play Best Day Ever, the best pick-me-up-song ever!

The show was nominated for 12 Tony Awards and won one: Best Scenic Design of a Musical.
It also won 6 Drama Desk Awards: Outstanding Musical, Actor, Featured Actor, Director, Sets, Wigs and Hair of a Musical.
And 4 Outer Critics Circle Awards: Outstanding New Musical, New Score, Director and Actor in a Musical.

The show was retitled for Broadway and the North American tour, now it’s SpongeBob Squarepants – the Broadway Musical.

Press:
For what it’s worth — and we’re talking millions of dollars here — you are never going to see as convincing an impersonation of a two-dimensional cartoon by a three-dimensional human as that provided by Ethan Slater at the Palace Theater. Mr. Slater plays the title role in SpongeBob SquarePants the Broadway Musical the ginormous giggle of a show that opened on Monday night.

…you will probably adore this musical if: a) “SpongeBob” was a formative influence of your childhood; b) you are a stoner who tokes up to watch reruns of the show on YouTube (categories a and b are not mutually exclusive); or c) if you are (like my date for this show) a parent of “SpongeBob”-bingeing progeny and found its sensibility crept into, and wallpapered, your weary mind.

… you may indeed enjoy such improbable spectacles as a misanthropic squid named Squidward (Gavin Lee, wearing four-legged pants) doing a virtuosic four-footed tap dance with a Busby Berkeley kick line of pink-sequined sea anemones. Or a heavy-metal boy band made up of sea skates on skateboards, with music by Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith. Oh, I forget to tell you. The show’s songs (supervised, arranged and orchestrated by the composer Tom Kitt) have been written by a plethora of pop-rock eminences…

Christopher Gattelli’s choreography of his sexually ambiguous ensemble (genders blur when wet) is perversely brilliant, suggesting piscine movement through breakdance and vogueing gestures instead of the expected swimming motions. But no one matches Mr. Slater in conveying the physicality of the life aquatic.
– Ben Brantley, The New York Times

Children should feel free to take their parents to Tina Landau’s psychedelically inspired version of the whimsical kiddie cartoon show … But Landau’s hallucinogenic stagecraft transcends the show’s television origins by speaking a visual language that’s three-dimensional and boldly theatrical.

(The plot) … is actually a lot scarier than any of the problems that arise in the TV show, but this is Broadway, where things tend to get inflated.
Here, that inflation surfaces in the score. Instead of working with a simpatico composer and lyricist, Landau, in the adventurous spirit of a Steppenwolf director, has stacked the show with individual pop songs written by individual songwriters … It’s not as much of a gimmick as it seems, but without a signature sound, there’s no signature style. What there is, though, is plenty of giddy, goofy fun for all.
– Marilyn Stasio, Variety

(Resulting in a show that) ”is as perfunctorily entertaining as it is insistently forgettable”.
– Alexis Soloski, The Guardian

Videos:

BFF
Bikini Bottom Day/Super Sea Star Savior/Best Day Ever
When The Going Gets Tough
At the Tony Awards: I’m Not a Looser
Gavin Lee (Squidward), Ethan Slater (SpongeBob), and Wesley Taylor (Sheldon Plankton) perform ”You Could Drive a Person Crazy” from COMPANY

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