The young actor Ethan Slater has been involved in the “SpongeBob Squarepants” stage musical since its very first workshop five years ago. But back then, he had no idea he was auditioning for the role of SpongeBob.
“It’s called ‘The Untitled Tina Landau Project,’” Slater recalls being told in the latest episode of Stagecraft, Variety’s theater podcast. That’s a reference to the director of the project, Tina Landau, with no mention of the Nickelodeon animated hit that inspired the musical that’s now playing on Broadway at the Palace Theater. “The role was Bubble Bert.”
On Stagecraft, Slater and his co-star Lilli Cooper, who plays the squirrel scientist Sandy, talk about bringing the optimistic invertebrate to life onstage. In a separate conversation, director Landau and writer Kyle Jarrow explain how they came up with the show’s original storyline.
“I like to describe it as ‘Armageddon’ meets ‘Our Town’ meets ‘SpongeBob,’” Jarrow jokes.
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Although the production is a big-budget musical, it has a homemade, found-object feel to it. That was part of Landau’s concept from the beginning, who embraced “SpongeBob” creator Stephen Hillenburg’s indie aesthetic as she tried to figure out how to put a two-dimensional sponge onstage.
The team opted for a look and a plot that are true to the spirit of the show, but entirely new. As Landau says: “If we’re just going to repeat something that we’ve seen on TV or film, why do theater?”
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