Viacom Takes Five Outer Critics Circle Awards, SpongeBob Leads Musicals with Four

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

After securing 12 Tony Award nominations apiece last week, SpongeBob SquarePants: The Musical and Mean Girls have each clinched at least one Outer Critics Circle Award.

The Nickelodeon production, which plants the network’s iconic anthropomorphic sponge in the middle of his first Broadway caper, took four awards – more than any other musical – including top honors for best new musical. Paramount Pictures’ and Broadway Video’s co-produced Mean Girls, based upon the 2004 movie of the same name, earned an additional honor, bringing Viacom’s total Outer Critics Circle count to five.

The announcements come as Viacom moves more deliberately into the live event space, translating its brands’ beloved characters and stories into immersive experiences that transcend the screen.

Here are the categories in which the Outer Critics Circle judges awarded top honors to Viacom’s Broadway musicals:

SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS THE MUSICAL

  • Outstanding New Broadway Musical
  • Best New Score – Jonathan Coulton, David Bowie and Brian Eno, Plain White T’s, T.I., Domani Harris, and Darwin Quinn, Brendon Urie of Panic! At the Disco, Alexander Ebert of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Cyndi Lauper and Rob Hyman, Yolanda Adams, The Flaming Lips, Sara Bareilles, Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith, Lady Antebellum, John Legend, They Might Be Giants, Andy Paley and Tom Kenny, Derek Drymon, Mark Harrison, Stephen Hillenburg, and Blaise Smith, and Tom Kitt
  • Best Actor in a Musical – Ethan Slater
  • Best Director of a Musical – Tina Landau*

Danny Skinner as Patrick Star and Ethan Slater as SpongeBob SquarePants. Photo by Joan Marcus, 2017.

MEAN GIRLS

  • Outstanding Book of a Musical – Tina Fey

Broadway awards season is just ramping up – both musicals are still eligible for multiple honors from the Drama Desk Awards, which will announce its winners on June 3, and the Tony Awards, which will air live on CBS on June 10.

*Tied with Bart Sher, My Fair Lady

SpongeBob, Mean Girls Lead Tony Nominees With 12 Apiece as Viacom Ramps Up Live Events Business

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

After racking up impressive totals in last week’s Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Awards nominations, Nickelodeon’s SpongeBob SquarePants: The Musical and Paramount Pictures’ and Broadway Video’s co-produced Mean Girls have tied at the top of this year’s Tony Award nominations, with 12 apiece, including Best Musical.

The impressive totals among the best of Broadway showcase the ability of Viacom brands to connect with audiences across a range of formats as the company moves deliberately into the live events space under CEO Bob Bakish. As Viacom branches out beyond its core television and film business, each of its six flagship brands will host live events this year, including Comedy Central’s Clusterfest in San Francisco, Nickelodeon’s Slimefest in Chicago, and the BET Experience in Los Angeles.

The pair of musicals, both of which sprang from Viacom’s deep intellectual property library, also earned the top nominations from the Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Awards. SpongeBob earned 11 nominations from each institution, while Mean Girls, which is based on the 2004 Paramount movie of the same name, earned 10 Drama Desk and eight Outer Critics Circle considerations.

The full lists of nominations for each award show is below. Both productions are ongoing in New York City. You can buy tickets to SpongeBob SquarePants at the Palace Theater here and to Mean Girls at the August Wilson Theater here.

TONY AWARDS – The 72nd annual Tony Awards will air live on CBS on Sunday, June 10 at 8 p.m. ET

Best Musical

Mean Girls

SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical

Ethan Slater, SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical

Best Performance by an actress in a leading Role in a Musical

Taylor Louderman, Mean Girls

Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical

Grey Henson, Mean Girls

Gavin Lee, SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical

Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical

Ashley Park, Mean Girls

Best Book of a Musical

Tina Fey, Mean Girls

Kyle Jarrow, SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical

Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre

Jeff Richmond and Nell Benjamin, Mean Girls

Yolanda Adams, Steven Tyler & Joe Perry of Aerosmith, Sara Bareilles, Jonathan Coulton, Alex Ebert 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 for SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical

Best Scenic Design of a Musical

Scott Pask, Finn Ross and Adam Young, Mean Girls

David Zinn, SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical

Best Costume Design of a Musical

Gregg Barnes, Mean Girls

David Zinn, SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical

Best Lighting Design of a Musical

Kevin Adams, SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical

Best Sound Design of a Musical

Brian Ronan, Mean Girls

Walter Trarbach and Mike Dobson, SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical

Best Direction of a Musical

Tina Landau, SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical

Casey Nicholaw, Mean Girls

Best Choreography

Christopher Gattelli, SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical

Casey Nicholaw, Mean Girls

Best Orchestrations

John Clancy, Mean Girls

Tom Kitt, SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical

SpongeBob SquarePants – The Broadway Musical for Everyone

DRAMA DESK AWARDS – TheaterMania will present the 63rd Annual Drama Desk Awards at 8:00 p.m. ET on June 3, 2018 at New York’s Town Hall

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SpongeBob SquarePants Delights Critics in Broadway Debut

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

Following an audience-wowing run in Chicago, Nickelodeon’s SpongeBob SquarePants The Broadway Musical officially landed in New York City last week, greeted by captivated fans and an ocean’s worth of critical praise.

“Skeptics better tie themselves to the mast if they want to survive this tempest of effervescent candy-for-the-spirit,” writes Vulture’s Sara Holdren. “Even if you venture into the Palace feeling Squidward  -ish, it’s a truly gloomy soul who’ll be able to leave without mirroring the dopey grin with which the show’s absorbent yellow hero responds to his buddy’s existential angst…”

The Tina Landau-directed story, in brief: while the ever-more-fiercely trembling Mount Humungous threatens to bury Bikini Bottom beneath a tsunami of lava and ash, a number of subplots playfully expose the absurdity of contemporary real-world issues in the non-animated realm in which we all dwell. Sandy the squirrel faces land-animal xenophobia from her sea fellows. Plankton’s attempts to win business through hypnosis has echoes of an online fake-news sales job. “Tidal warming” threatens to upend daily life.

With music from an all-star jukebox’s worth of musicians, a riotous set and costumes perfectly channeling the cartoon’s manic aesthetic, and a cast preternaturally suited to their undersea identities, the show is a complete work, tuned both to its obvious target audience of children and to theatergoers entranced by the spectacle of big-time Broadway productions.

Critics, many of whom expressed only a vague familiarity with the show prior to stepping into the Palace theater, were delighted. Here’s a sampling of what they liked:

The set design

Twenty years in, SpongeBob fans are well acquainted with the whimsical animated set pieces that constitute Bikini Bottom. But even long-time observers will be delighted by the maritime decor, a boldly colored and meticulously curated bazaar of pool noodles, floaty-devices, and the discarded effluvia of the consumerist human world above – shopping carts, umbrellas, surfboards and more.

“[Set designer]  David Zinn, a master designer, seems to have been fed an herb meal before devising the set and costumes that transform the noble old Palace into a trippy mindf!ck that’s equal parts Rube Goldberg and Electric Circus,” writes Deadline’s Jeremy Gerard. “I doubt there are any colors on view that exist in nature, or that you or I have seen since black light met ingested pholiotina cyanopus.”

Sesley Taylor as Sheldon Plankton (center) and company. Photo by Joan Marcus, 2017.

The costumes

Bikini Bottom is crowded with characters of odd shape and dimension, and Zinn, who in addition to set designer is also the show’s costume designer, does not try to interpret this cartoon fantasyland literally. Instead, the actors’ decidedly human-proportioned outfits match their character’s familiar color palette, evoking their essence while individual performances complete the profile.

“The production smartly shuns prosthetics to match the characters’ looks from the animated series. Instead, undersea denizens are given human form but retain telltale traits,” writes Joe Dziemianowicz in The New York Daily News. “It’s a smart decision that broadens accessibility — fans and non-fans, adults and kids.”

Pictured: The company of SpongeBob SquarePants. Photo by Joan Marcus, 2017

The music

SpongeBob’s Broadway debut packs an outsized catalogue of that key element to so many big-time stage productions: music. The play brims with songs – many of them originals created for this production – by a deep well of musicians: Yolanda Adams, Steven Tyler, Joe Perry, Sara Bareilles, Jonathan Coulton, Alex Ebert, The Flaming Lips, Lady Antebellum, Cyndi Lauper, John Legend, Panic! At the Disco, Plain White T’s, T.I., David Bowie, Tom Kenny and Andy Paley.

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SpongeBob SquarePants Follows Season 12 Renewal With Voyage to Broadway

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

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:

via GIPHY

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.

The story

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.”

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Anatomy of a Hit: Viacommunity Hosts Tony-Award Winning Producer Stewart Lane

Viacommunity, in partnership with The Actors Fund, recently hosted Tony Award-winning producer Stewart Lane at Viacom’s global headquarters in Times Square. Lane discussed everything from his first play, In the Wings, to his newest endeavor into the online streaming business, his Broadway HD website.

Lane recalled beginning his career in show business as an actor determined to be cast in a play. His desire drove him to write In the Wings, his first play, for the sole purpose of casting himself in the production. His career as a producer happened more organically. “It didn’t just happen – it evolved,” Lane noted.

The Broadway mainstay’s love for the theatre has expanded into his role as a supporter of The Actors Fund, a nationwide organization that helps all professionals in the performing arts and entertainment industries. The organization’s services include health care, health clinics and career transitioning advice. “I recommend it to anyone in the business that needs help,” Lane raved.

​Lane with moderator Essence Dashtaray.

​Lane with moderator Essence Dashtaray.

In addition to his credits as a producer and a philanthropist, Lane has added a new business venture to his resume with the creation of his online streaming library of Broadway productions available on the website, Broadway HD. Asked whether his website would hurt Broadway ticket sales, Lane responded, “You will never beat the experience of a live Broadway show.”

His goal is to share the experience of Broadway, not compete with it. “It’s not a movie. It’s not a TV show. It’s something new,” he noted. Eventually, Lane hopes to provide his website for educational purposes to students studying the performing arts.

Lane’s evolution into a successful Broadway producer has spanned 15 Tony nominations and six Tony wins. Asked what it takes to become a successful producer, Lane simply replied, “Tell the best show you can. Don’t try to cater to the audience or the critics, just make a good show!”