The SpongeBob Musical, created by Tina Landau and written by Kyle Jarrow, is based on the popular children's television show on Nickelodeon. The Broadway musical opened to critical acclaim in 2017, and since then, companies everywhere have staged the show, attracting crowds from all generations and walks of life. In this show, SpongeBob, Patrick, and Sandy are determined to save Bikini Bottom from a newly active volcano.
There were many stars, but the one I was most awed by, I had not seen at all until this performance. I have to give the highest praise to Jackson Cobb, the projection designer. Talk about an effective, modern, and even humorous way to transition between scenes and bring us all into the world of Bikini Bottom. Cobb’s efforts were amplified by the work of the rest of the production staff. I was a huge fan of the foley artist who recreated fun and familiar sounds, and the pit director, who was involved in the show in more ways than one. These elements, as well as scenic build & design, props, and the brilliant costumes, all gave me the impression that this show had high production value.
Eagan’s theater is spacious. It seats over 600 people, and the theater can be easy to get lost in. However, co-directors Jodene Wartman and Jim Cox expertly directed the cast to use every corner of the space. Throughout various points of the show, you might find a performer as you look left, right, or even behind you. You may even get the chance to talk with a special character before the show begins. This choice actively brings the audience into the world the actors have created - the stage is all around us.
I sat near the back of the house. At times I struggled to hear ensemble members on the stage who didn’t have a microphone. I don’t think the cast wasn’t projecting, but I do think the nature of community theater means there are a lot of people and not enough equipment, so actors rely on area microphones to pick up their voices. If you want to hold on to every word, or if you read lips, I would recommend sitting in the front half of the house.
And you will want to hold on to every word. Not only is Jarrow’s writing smart, but the cast delivers on smart moments exceptionally well. The Mayor of Bikini Bottom (Kari McCord) leans into the ills of being a local politician. A few self-aware puns (don’t worry, good ones) find their way on the stage. The Electric Skates master the cool aloofness of your favorite boy band. Karen the Computer (Emily Hensley) and Plankton (Ethan Nelson) share a few hilarious moments of calculated aromantic romance.
Speaking of Karen and Plankton, there are other dynamic duos that the audience enjoyed. Mr. Eugene Krabs (Bill Stevens) and his whale child Pearl (Kat Grannis) grappled with conflicting interests throughout the show. Together, the two had impressive chemistry. Stevens’ comedic timing and spin on Mr. Krabs was noteworthy. Grannis’ voice while begging Mr. Krabs to just listen (“Daddy Knows Best”), and energy as Pearl was matchless.
Another duo (or quintet) that stood out was Squidward (Jonathan Haller) and his four legs, on which he walked and tap danced. I appreciated the choice to lean into Squidward’s melodramatic musings. It was a strong, humanizing choice that helped me feel compassion for an otherwise dry character.
And of course, I can’t go forth without mentioning Patrick, Sandy, and SpongeBob. Sandy (Meta Lobben) would agree -- it’s all about chemistry with this group. Lobben’s sharpness and animation balanced nicely with Patrick (Bennet Klingman). Klingman’s admirable dopeyness as Patrick balanced well with SpongeBob (Ben Habegger), especially on (“(I Guess I) Miss You”). Lobben as Sandy stepped forward to confidently lead when SpongeBob needed her support.
I have to give props to Ben Habegger, who plays the titular character, SpongeBob SquarePants. His microphone was placed in a way that muffled his voice. Nevertheless, he persisted. At a certain point, the muffled microphone was hardly an issue. In SpongeBob’s moment of self-actualization (“(Just A) Simple Sponge”), Habegger provided a powerful and emotive vocal performance. It’s clear that he’s done research on SpongeBob SquarePants. Not just on his voice, his sense of humor, or his ever-so-familiar laugh, but also on his mind, motivations, and heart. Habegger’s interpretation of SpongeBob turns a cartoon character into your optimistic, motivated friend that you can’t help but cheer for.
There is something in Eagan community theater’s production of The SpongeBob Musical for everyone. From excellent technical design and delivery, to a multi-talented ensemble (many of whom played more than one role) who knows how to do smart humor, you’re sure to enjoy this musical in a few ways.
The SpongeBob Musical plays at Eagan High School in Eagan, MN, through July 30, 2022.