By Casey Curtis
The print on this review should be in a variety of neon colors. While you are reading it on your computer, it would be fitting if I entered your house from above, suspended from a wire wearing a jet-pack on top of the most outrageous costume you can imagine. I will start singing to you about the show — with dancing and singing fish backing me up — and we’ll be interrupted by a Newscaster, a Pirate, and the Mayor. All of them will vie for your attention and meanwhile an evil villain will be plotting against me.
SpongeBob SquarePants The Broadway Musical, has captured all the silly, goofy, broadly camp, good-natured fun of the Nickelodeon TV series. And it is a rare feat to effectively translate style and comedy from one genre to another. Tina Landau, the conceiver and director, succeeds marvelously. She leaves no shell unturned in Bikini Bottom, the show’s oceanic locale.
More of a revue than a book musical, SpongeBob SquarePants aims to amuse, dazzle, and delight along the journey — topping each visual topper and playing with props in every imaginable way: glow-in-the-dark rectangular sponges that reconfigure to form shapes, dancing letters, and characters flattened to 2-dimensions when hit by a boulder that emerges from a Rube Goldberg-like device. The plot — and this really doesn’t merit a spoiler alert — is that the characters’ world may come to an end due to a volcanic eruption. Now strap yourselves in for the joy ride to armageddon.
Songs come courtesy of a lengthy list of prestigious pop and rock artists e.g.: Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith, Sara Bareilles, Cyndi Lauper, John Legend, They Might Be Giants, and Plain White T’s, to name some but not all.
The real star of the show is not the Starfish (Danny Skinner), nor Spongebob (Ethan Slater), nor Pearl Krabs, played by Jai’Len Josey, whose voice was so beautifully strong and clear that it made me get misty-eyed, nor any of the other fine musical theater performers who bring to life these animated characters. It is David Zinn, credited with Scenic and Costume Design.
Mr. Zinn should get his credit above the title, so dazzling and enjoyable is his work. Pink umbrellas lifted up and down become a sea of jellyfish, a newscaster’s jacket and pants have color bands that look like the old “off the air” bands of color that remained frozen on a TV set in the wee hours of the morning, and Squidward Q. Tentacles (Gavin Lee) four legs were jiggered so that they moved in synchronicity during his show-stopping tap dance fantasy of fame replete with Ziegfeld Follies-esque choreography. There were times in the show where I simply didn’t care about the lyrics — best, by the way, when they were very simple, childlike, and sparse (otherwise they were difficult to discern over the orchestra) — due to the extraordinary costuming and set design.
SpongeBob SquarePants The Broadway Musical is not for those who might want a deeper (emotionally, not in fathoms) experience. It is for those who love non-stop creativity in costume, design, color, lighting, choreography, zany comedy, and madcap mayhem. If that is your cup of saltwater, swim down to the Palace Theater and prepare to be swept up in a tidal wave of bubbling entertainment.
Afterthought regarding theater etiquette: while I would never want anyone to be inhibited in response to a show they enjoy, the man on my left yelled his approval so loudly that my left ear is in pain today. So excessive was his response that it made one wonder if he was a friend of the producers. If cell phone use is banned during shows, perhaps too should be banshee yelling. Enthusiastic clapping — all for it. Calling out bravo in a confident voice — all for it. Yelling as loud as you possibly can within close proximity to other patron’s ears – not cool and medically damaging. Similarly, the faction in the theater that started talking back to the stage (long a staple of movie theaters) during the rap number, was also not appreciated and lessened my enjoyment of the musical. Ushers and house managers — please monitor the audience.
Original songs by Yolanda Adams, Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith, Sara Bareilles, Jonathan Coulton, Alexander Ebert of Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, The Flaming Lips, Lady Antebellum, Cyndi Lauper, John Legend, Panic! At the Disco, Plain White T’s, They Might Be Giants and T.I., and a song by David Bowie and by Tom Kenny and Andy Paley. Additional lyrics by Jonathan Coulton. Additional music by Tom Kitt.
The design team includes scenic and costume design by David Zinn, lighting design by Kevin Adams, projection design by Peter Nigrini, sound design by Walter Trarbach , hair and wig design by Charles G. LaPointe and casting by Telsey + Company/Patrick Goodwin, CSA .
Book by Kyle Jarrow; Music supervision by Tom Kitt; Choreography by Christopher Gattelli; Co-conceived and directed by Tina Landau
Cast Ethan Slater, Gavin Lee, Lilli Cooper, Danny Skinner, Brian Ray Norris, Wesley Taylor, Gaelen Gilliland, Juliane Godfrey, Kyle Matthew Hamilton, Curtis Holbrook, Stephanie Hsu, Jesse JP Johnson, L’ogan J’ones, Jai’len Josey, Kelvin Moon Loh, Lauralyn McClelland, Vasthy Mompoint, Oneika Phillips, Jon Rua, JC Schuster, Abby C. Smith, Robert Taylor Jr., Allan Washington, Brynn Williams and Matt Wood
SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical – Palace Theater – 1564 Broadway @ 47th Street – 877-250-2929 – website
For more information on SpongeBob SquarePants , visit SpongeBobBroadway.com
Tickets are currently available to the general public online via Ticketmaster. com, by calling 877-250-2929 or at The Palace Theatre box office (1564 Broadway – Broadway at 47th Street). Ticket prices range from $49 to $159.