×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Broadway Review: ‘SpongeBob SquarePants,’ the Musical

With:
Ethan Slater, Lilli Cooper, Brian Ray Norris, Donny Skinner, Wesley Taylor, and Gavin Lee.

2 hours 30 minutes

Children should feel free to take their parents to Tina Landau’s psychedelically inspired version of the whimsical kiddie cartoon show that’s been making a fortune for Nickelodeon since 1999. Kyle Jarrow’s book retains the two key elements of the Nicktoon: the cheerful sea sponge’s unquenchable optimism and his selflessly heroic efforts to rescue his friends from whatever problems happen to pop up. But Landau’s hallucinogenic stagecraft transcends the show’s television origins by speaking a visual language that’s three-dimensional and boldly theatrical.

The piscine characters are played by actors wearing flashy, but not overbearing costumes designed by David Zinn, who also created the insanely animated scenery. Goofy Patrick Star (as in starfish) is played by good-natured Danny Skinner in goofy mismatched beachwear. That bossy Squidward Q. Tentacles (Gavin Lee, ever so pushy) needs only a spare pair of legs to convince us he’s an octopus. And by putting on red boxing gloves, Brian Ray Norris instantly becomes crabby Eugene Krabs.

As for our hero, Ethan Slater’s playfully animated SpongeBob suits up like a loose-limbed high-school sophomore who just happens to have outstanding musical theater chops.

The fluorescent color scheme is so dazzling and the visual effects so clever, it’s easy to overlook the simplicity of the basic design. Stacks of lime-green pool noodles make a perfectly fine approximation of sea kelp. And a graceful underwater ballet of hot-pink jellyfish is constructed out of nothing more than plastic umbrellas. The only downside is when we realize that the found objects used so ingeniously in this multi-million-dollar show represent the cast-off junk tossed into the ocean by thoughtless humans.

None of that figures in the two-tiered plot. On one level, we have the long-standing rivalry between the Krusty Krab (“Bikini Bottom’s most popular dining establishment”) and the Chum Bucket, the low-class joint owned and operated by the villainous Sheldon Plankton. As in marine biology, the plankton appears on the television show as a single-cell organism. Here, Sheldon is played to perfection by the lean and skulking Wesley Taylor.

(“I may be small, but my genius is immense.”)

SpongeBob is so good-natured, he can’t help himself from greeting the world with manic joy. (“Hello lawn! Hello street! Hello sky! Hello flowers!”) But he can’t ignore the serious threat to the very existence of Bikini Bottom — an undersea volcano called Mount Humongous that’s threatening to blow sky-high. That’s 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, including Cyndi Lauper, David Bowie, John Legend, Sara Bareilles, and Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler and Joe Perry. 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.

Broadway Review: 'SpongeBob SquarePants,' the Musical

The Palace Theater; 1610 seats; $155 top. Opened Dec. 4, 2017. Reviewed Nov. 30.

Production: A production by Nickelodeon, The Araca Group, Sony Music Masterworks, and Kelp on the Road, of a musical in two acts based on the series by Stephen Hillenburg. Book by Kyle Jarrow. Original songs by Yolanda Adams, Steven Tyler & Joe Perry of Aerosmith, Sara Bareilles, Jonathan Coulton, Alex Evert of Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros, The Flaming Lips, Lady Antebellum, Cyndi Lauper & Rob Hyman, John Legend, Panic! At the Disco, Plain White T’s, They Might Be Giants, T.I., Domani & Lil’C, and songs by David Bowie & Brian Eno, Tom Kenny & Andy Paley. Additional lyrics by Jonathan Coulton. Additional music by Tom Kitt.

Creative:

Production conceived and directed by Tina Landau. Choreography by Christopher Gattelli. Music Supervision, orchestrations & arrangements by Tom Kitt. Sets & costumes, David Zinn; lighting, Kevin Adams; sound, Walter Trarbach; projections, Peter Nigrini; hair, Charles G. LaPointe; makeup, Joe Dulude II; Foley Design; production stage manager, Julia Jones.

Cast: Ethan Slater, Lilli Cooper, Brian Ray Norris, Donny Skinner, Wesley Taylor, and Gavin Lee.

More Legit

  • Bryan Cranston First Time in Variety

    Bryan Cranston on His Early Roles, Dealing With Rejection and His 'Erasable Mind'

    Following his 2014 Tony Award for best actor as President Lyndon B. Johnson in Robert Schenkkan’s play “All the Way,” Bryan Cranston is looking to add to his trophy collection this year with his performance as Howard Beale in “Network.” The deranged anchorman — who’s famously “mad as hell and not going to take this [...]

  • Ink Play West End London

    Wary Theater Rivalry Between London and New York Gives Way to a Boom in Crossovers

    Give or take a little tectonic shift, the distance between London and New York still stands at 3,465 miles. Arguably, though, the two theater capitals have never been closer. It’s not just the nine productions playing in duplicate in both locations — believed to be the most ever — with three more expected in the [...]

  • Alex Brightman Beetlejuice Broadway

    How Alex Brightman Brought a Pansexual Beetlejuice to Life on Broadway

    Alex Brightman gives the deadliest performance on Broadway — in a good way — in “Beetlejuice.” The big-budget musical adaptation of the 1988 film directed by Tim Burton has scored eight Tony nominations, including best actor. To play the frisky role, Brightman (“School of Rock”) dons Beetlejuice’s striped suit and an assortment of colorful wigs [...]

  • Santino Fontana Tootsie Broadway Illustration

    'Tootsie' Star Santino Fontana on the Challenges of His Tony-Nominated Dual Role

    Santino Fontana is doing double duty on Broadway this year. The “Tootsie” star scored his second Tony Award nomination this month for his hilarious portrayal of struggling actor Michael Dorsey and Dorothy Michaels, the female persona that Dorsey assumes to win a role in a play. The musical, based on the 1982 comedy starring Dustin [...]

  • Dear Evan Hansen

    Broadway Cast Albums Find Fresh Footing With Hip New Sounds, Viral Outreach

    Mixtapes. YouTube videos. Dedicated playlists. Ancillary products. Viral marketing. Epic chart stays. These are things you expect to hear from a record label discussing Cardi B or Beyoncé. Instead, this is the new world of a very old staple, the Broadway original cast recording. Robust stats tell the tale: Atlantic’s “Hamilton” album beat the record [...]

  • Ali Stroker Oklahoma

    Ali Stroker on 'Oklahoma!': 'This Show Doesn’t Follow the Rules and That Is So Who I Am'

    Ali Stroker is no stranger to rewriting history. With her 2015 Broadway debut in “Spring Awakening,” she became the first actor in a wheelchair to perform on the Great White Way. Three years later, she’s back onstage in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma!” as Ado Annie, the flirtatious local who splits her affections between a resident [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content