THE SPONGEBOB MUSICAL at Lyric Arts
I have a question for you faithful readers, who lives in a pineapple under the seas? If you knew the answer to that question then The Spongebob Musical is for you. My kids grew up on Spongebob Squarepants and unlike Teletubbies or The Wiggles, I never prayed for them to grow out of Spongebob. It was clever and funny and it played to adults almost as much as it did to kids. It didn’t pander to children and just try and keep them occupied, it told funny stories set in a grown up world of work, but you know, under the sea. Attending The Spongebob Musical on opening night felt something like I imagine attending a One Direction concert would be like. The audience was off the hook, there’s a double meaning in that for Spongebob fans. But in all sincerity, you couldn’t ask for a better audience to enjoy a show with. I have never heard an audience react like that at Lyric Arts. Sure, there were obviously a lot of Spongeheads in the audience, but the performance justified the hysteria. This isn’t the greatest show in the world, but it’s sure is one kelp of good time. The terrific cast brings these characters to life in a theater transformed from floor to ceiling into Bikini Bottom. It’s everything you expect from Spongebob and several things you don’t, and all of it is designed with one thing in mind, to make you smile.
If you have any connection at all with Spongebob Squarepants I highly recommend seeing The Spongebob Musical.
This is kind of an unusual musical in that, the book is by Kyle Jarrow but the songs are originals by a variety of artists. There is one existing David Bowie and Brian Eno song “No Control” as well as the “Spongebob Theme Song” and the song “Best Day ever” from the Spongebob Squarepants movie. The list of artists that contributed original songs is kind of wild. There’s The Flaming Lips, Panic! At the Disco, They Might Be Giants, John Legend, Sara Bareilles, and Cyndi Lauper just to name a few. The story involves a volcano that is going to erupt and destroy Bikini Bottom. The townspeople are in a panic and refuse to listen to the plan of resident Scientist and land mammal Sandy Cheeks. Instead they are led, using tactics of fear, by Plankton, the local mad
scientistrestaurateur to put on a benefit concert to raise funds to buy an escape pod large enough for them all to flee in. His true objective is to get them all in one place so he can mass hypnotize them into preferring his restaurant The Chum Bucket to that of his competitor the Krusty Krab owned by Mr. Krabs and in which both Spongebob and Squidward work. Given it’s themes of stirring up Xenophobia and anti-science, it’s surprising to learn that the musicals development and premiere pre-date the Trump Presidency. While Plankton has the towns folk turning against each other, it’s up to Spongebob and his best friend Patrick to help Sandy stop the volcano’s eruption and save Bikini Bottom. Meanwhile Squidward, attempts to organize the benefit concert in hopes of getting a chance to realize his life’s dream of performing at the Bikini Bottom Clamshell. Jarrow clearly understands the world of Spongebob as his book feels like a very extended episode of the TV show. In fact, now might be a good time to warn you, the show is kinda long, with the intermission it runs about two and a half hours. Children under 5 are not admitted, if your older kids say 7 to 12 are into Spongebob, don’t worry about the length, the show is so entertaining it will hold their attention. But if your kids don’t like SB or loudish sound, this isn’t the show for them. And 12 isn’t the top age for the show, my wife and I loved it as did our 21 year old daughter.
I always ask a question on the ride home from a show, which was your favorite performance. For my daughter it was Squidward, for my wife it was Spongebob, for me it was Patrick, no wait Sandy, no wait Squidward, maybe Spongebob. Which is one way of saying the cast is all around fantastic. After favorites, it’s all about the little mentions of the ensemble players, all of which had moments to shine. What’s amazing is how much you come to see the actors as these cartoon characters even though they use minimal makeup and while many of the costumes are quite good, they askew using any person inside a costume getups. They do it by capturing the mannerisms and voices and through a thorough understanding of the characters. Berto Borroto plays Spongebob he has the voice, particularly the laugh down as well as the way Spongebob moves. Justin Michael is Patrick, hands down the most spot on when it comes to the speaking voice, dead ringer for his cartoon counterpart, he loses the voice when he sings, but it’s forgiven because he probably has the best singing voice of the entire male cast. Taelyn gore is Sandy who wasn’t done any favors by a mic that seemed either to go out on her or get turned down, but I was front row and she was pretty amazing when I could hear her, which was most of the time. She has a strong stage presence and of the hero trio she has the difficult job of being the normal one, which means she doesn’t get the easy laughs, but she gets a nice emotional moment towards the end which really caught me off guard and had me wiping my eyes. Speaking of unexpected moments, I was not expecting a tap dance number, let alone featuring Squidward played by Noah Hynick who is starting to really gain my attention this year with all three of his Lyric Arts roles. An actor would be hard pressed to find a better sequence of roles to show of their range. Like the others he gets the voice right but also seems to understand the physical nuances and mannerisms of the character. Lots of ensemble performers that deserve a mention but I’ll limit it to Kaylyn Schmit who plays Pearl Krabs, who gets to really show off her vocal talents a couple of times in the show and it leaves you wanting a rewrite so she get’s another song or two to perform.
The terrific cast brings these characters to life in a theater transformed from floor to ceiling into Bikini Bottom.
Matt McNabb directs the show with a clear understanding of the feel and tone of Spongebob. The scenic design by Sadie Ward is wonderfully low rent yet all encompassing. There are the floating flowers that always appear in the background on Spongebob made from LaCroix 12-pack boxes, the sea flowers along the dock that runs across the front of the stage made from cardboard toilet paper tubes. She is assisted by Scenic Painter Victoria Clawson, and Props Designer Cory Skold in bringing the world of the cartoon to life. The show isn’t over designed or under designed, it feels just right. The Costume Designer is Samantha Fromm Haddow and she’s got some really ingenious pieces in this production, I loved Squidwards multi-leg trousers, Mr. Krabs claws, and Sandy’s white spacesuit, which I think she wisely leaves us to imagine the helmet that Sandy needs so she can breath. the one area that seemed to need tweaking, which will hopefully occur as the run continues. The mixing engineer is Emily Ludewig and aside from Sandy, and sometimes Spongebob’s voices being hard to hear, there was a general imbalance between the music and the vocals, with the vocals on the losing end frequently. There are several songs where most of the cast is singing, with various groups singing different lyrics, it’s little more than a cacophony at times.
If you have any connection at all with Spongebob Squarepants I highly recommend seeing The Spongebob Musical. If you’re not familiar with the character and before you dismiss it out of hand, I would point out that it was nominated for 12 Tony Awards, tying with Mean Girls for the most nominations in 2018. It’s very hard to imagine anyone not having a great time at this show. It’s silly and fun, but there are also messages about friendship and believing in yourself, about the dangers of reacting out of blind fear and prejudice. The Spongebob Musical runs through August 13th at Lyric Arts in Anoka. For more information and to purchase tickets go to https://www.lyricarts.org/spongebob.
Rob is a member of the Twin Cities Theater Bloggers and their podcast Twin Cities Theater Chat as well as a syndicating contributor to Minnesota Playlist. Read all his content www.thestagesofmn.com
Photo by Molly Weibel, 1000 Words Photography-MN