The power of positive thinking has been working out pretty well lately for SpongeBob SquarePants. The eternal optimist will star in his third movie in 2019. Last month, Nickelodeon greenlit a 12th season, which will correspond with the show’s 20-year anniversary when it debuts in 2019. America’s favorite talking sponge continues to be the most popular cartoon on the block, scoring the top ratings slot among core kids demographics.
And now, there’s even more to celebrate:
The play – in which an unnamed savior rises to save Bikini Bottom from volcanic annihilation – moves east after a successful run in Chicago, landing at Broadway’s Palace Theatre, which sits just a couple blocks north of Viacom’s global headquarters in Times Square.
“We could not be more thrilled to bring Nickelodeon’s iconic SpongeBob SquarePants to the theater in an original musical conceived specifically for Broadway,” said Nickelodeon President Cyma Zarghami. “We are also incredibly honored to be in such a gorgeous house as The Palace, where audiences will be immersed in the fun and surprising world of Bikini Bottom.”
SpongeBob is pretty happy about it too:
And so are the folks who watch Broadway for a living: “While we’ve been so excited about plenty of other great plays for kids, this one surely takes the cake,” writes Time Out New York’s Allie Early.
There’s a lot to be amped up about. The Chicago run was well-reviewed, with high praise for many of the disparate parts that seamlessly merge into a big-time stage production. Let’s take a look at a few highlights.
SpongeBob has built a reputation as an all-ages crowd-pleaser, and the musical continues that tradition.
In his television review for Chicago local station WGN 9, Dean Richards observed, “Instead of kid-like dialogue, the story is multi-layered for kids and adults. It all adds up to one of the most fun, well-produced, and best-acted shows Chicago has seen in a long time.”
And while the plot is relatively simple – a volcano is about to destroy their world, how do we save it? – the production’s subtext is ground in a greater, unnamed sophistication that addresses the issues of the larger troubled world we all actually inhabit.
Writing in the Chicago Sun-Times, Hedy Weiss noted, “Part allegory of the precarious world in which we all now dwell, and part satire on everything from the bureaucratic babble of modern-day politicians to the hunger for moneymaking, the bloated egos of pop music groups, messianic leaders and the eternal lure of stardom, the show is full of wildly energetic performers and playful, imaginative stagecraft that might best be described as one part lavish Dollar Store ingenuity, one part Cirque du Soleil and one part childlike invention.”
While some of the cast has yet to be announced, confirmed cast members include Ethan Slater returning as SpongeBob SquarePants, Gavin Lee (Squidward), Lilli Coopers (Sandy Cheeks) and Danny Skinner (Patrick).
They all shone brightly in their Chicago debut. “Looking like a youthful amalgam of Rod Stewart, Barry Manilow and Bello Nock the clown, the vocally charming Slater nails the most crucial qualities of Nickelodeon’s biggest brand name: his irony-free gestalt, his stoic but vulnerable demeanor and his belief that this might as well be the best day ever, since that just might prevent it from being the worst,” wrote Chris Jones in the Chicago Tribune. “Slater is well supported by Lilli Cooper, who plays Sandy Cheeks, the ex-pat Texan squirrel; the very honest Danny Skinner as the insecure Patrick Star; … and Gavin Lee, the terrific hoofer who plays Squidward Tentacles, the Eeyore of this crew, whose big Act 2 dance number, fabulously choreographed by Christopher Gattelli, stops the show.”
As noted in the Twitter post above, the score is eclectic and wide-ranging, with original songs by Yolanda Adams, Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith, Sara Bareilles, Jonathan Coulton, Alexander Ebert of Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, The Flaming Lips, John Legend, Lady Antebellum, Cyndi Lauper, Panic! At the Disco, Plain White T’s, They Might Be Giants and T.I., along with a song by David Bowie. Jonathan Coulton contributed additional lyrics.
While that sounds like a rough playlist to synthesize, director Tina Landau and her team managed it quite beautifully. The Chicago Tribune’s Chris Jones notes, “The SpongeBob musical’s biggest gamble — a score made up of singles by different songwriters and unified by orchestrator Tom Kitt — works quite beautifully in the anarchic playpen that Landau has created with her designers, David Zinn and Kevin Adams.”
Listen to a bit more about the music selection for the Chicago edition from the show’s creators:
A cast album will be released soon in conjunction with Sony Masterworks Broadway.
The set and costume design
David Zinn expertly handles scenic and costume design. Variety’s Steven Oxman highlights a few standout elements: “… yellow sweater vest, red tie, and plaid shorts amply capture [SpongeBob’s] spongey squareness, while a visible Foley artist provides the sounds of squish when he walks. His sidekick starfish Patrick dresses in pastels and tropical shirts, signaling his laid-back happy-go-lucky sensibility. And their tentacled, curmudgeonly neighbor Squidward wears ingenious slacks that come with a set of extra legs, attached at the heels, that move in conversation with the Lee’s steps.”
The realm in which these natty deep-dwellers live has been recreated just as imaginatively, as the Daily Herald’s Barbara Vitello observed: “Pool noodles and plastic cups, flip-flops and oil drums are among the flotsam and jetsam that comprise SpongeBob’s Bikini Bottom home, a gorgeous underwater wonderland brilliantly imagined by set and costume designer David Zinn….”
Here’s a bit more about the costumes and set in Chicago, from the show’s creators.
It all comes together at the top
Landau has directed more than a dozen plays, including Bells Are Ringing and Tracy Letts’ Superior Donuts on Broadway. The experience shows in the rollicking, well-conceived world of SpongeBob.
“Director Tina Landau (who also co-conceived the concept for the show) proves once again she is crazy brilliant in her capacity to stage epic and sweeping theater,” writes Misha Davenport in Broadway World Chicago. “Her Bikini Bottom is well-realized down to that last tiny bit of kelp. The show – with a running time of two-and-a-half hours – felt brisk and never dragged.”
A bit more about everything that went into the Chicago production:
SpongeBob the musical previews will begin Nov. 6. The show will officially open Dec. 4. Tickets will be available via Ticketmaster.com or by calling (877) 250-2929 beginning Monday, June 26, or at The Palace Theatre box office (1564 Broadway – Broadway at 47th Street in New York City) beginning in Fall 2017.