In days’ past, Eagan’s community theater team cycled through cherished classic musicals that could support massive casts, a children's chorus, and a technical crew that ran as a well-oiled machine. From their youth all the way through adulthood, participants would return summer after summer, eventually bringing their kids to rehearsals with them to sing in the chorus, while they vied for and performed in larger lead roles.
I have a strong memory of attending Eagan’s summer production of Wizard of Oz when I was in third or fourth grade, and seeing basically half of my elementary school on stage performing as munchkins. I was in awe of the adults who played the main characters, and wowed by the production value. Like many other people used to do, I went to see the show multiple times in the 3-week run. The energy was palpable. It felt magical. It was an environment you wanted to come back to, whether you were a performer or a spectator.
Then the world changed, a lot.
I don’t even want to mention what caused the change. I think we can all use our ~imagination~ and move right along.
Summers are now reserved for making extra money. Or doing absolutely nothing, after grinding through months of burnout. Maybe sleeping. Or traveling. Spending time with loved ones, because that means something very different now. Children and younger adults are catching up on the hard and soft skills they would have learned while socializing with their peers in school.
A lot of theaters, like Eagan’s, momentarily went dark. The bulk of our entertainment was, and is, consumed alone or with a few other people, on screens ranging from six to sixteen inches. Eagan even successfully replaced their planned 2020 summer show with a virtual cabaret. With this transition, people found themselves re-assessing their availability to engage in live community theater.
As Eagan prepared to come back, many of the familiar faces of community theater were nowhere to be found. However, an ever-so devoted crowd of talented, fresh faces made their way to Eagan High School to audition for this summer’s production of The SpongeBob Musical, as well as a few returners invigorated by the opportunity to perform on a stage they love again.
Director Jodene Wartman believes that The SpongeBob Musical at Eagan High School is representative of ‘a new era’. And it’s true - if you thought you would never hear the musical stylings of Cyndi Lauper, David Bowie, and Yolanda Adams all in the same show about a Nickelodeon cartoon character at a community theater in Eagan, Minnesota, I challenge you to think again. In addition to an exciting, modern choice for the show, Eagan’s ‘new era’ also refers to the returning and new cast members and their vim for live theater.
Connected through memories
Cooper Swanson, one of the sardine devotees, is excited to return from a hiatus.
“A few years ago, Eagan did a virtual cabaret in place of a summer show. But there’s nothing like being around other performers on a stage,” said Cooper. “I love the environment and the people who are a part of this production. SpongeBob is an upbeat show and the perfect way to return to summer theater at Eagan.”
Kari McCord, who is in her first Eagan community theater show, plays the Mayor of Bikini Bottom. She feels connected to the show through memories she’s shared with her children.
“My kids are in their twenties. They always watched SpongeBob growing up, and I watched it with them,” said Kari. “When I saw this show on Minnesota Playlist, I knew I had to audition. My kids have to see me up there.”
As a twenty-something myself, observing parts of the rehearsal process (more to come when we publish a longer expose I’m working on about the creation of this production) has scratched my itch for nostalgia. In this show, you’ll get to see actors embody the spirits of main characters like Spongebob SquarePants, Patrick Star, and Sandy Cheeks, as well as lovable supporting characters like Pearl, Old Man Jenkins, and Patchy the Pirate. I’m most impressed with their uncanny ability to match the voices of the characters in the show. I wish this was a multimedia piece, so you could press a play button and hear how madly similar their voices are to the original characters. But you’ll have to come to the show to see it for yourself.
Yes, the world has changed. A lot. But this cast is vibrant, energetic, and out of a few years of hardship, they’ve created a new magic. Perhaps something more sensational than what I used to feel sitting in that theater as an eight-year-old.
Performances of The SpongeBob Musical at Eagan High School (4185 Braddock Trail, Eagan, MN 55123) begin on July 15th and run on select dates and times through July 30th. Tickets are $19 for adults, $16 for senior citizens and students, $12 for children through grade 8, and $10 for high school students and children on special “Bikini Bottom Wednesdays”. Tickets can be purchased online HERE or at the box office 30 minutes prior to the start of each show.