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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Snoop Dogg, Flo Rida Introduce Airy New Hollywood Home for Eight Viacom Brands

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

Viacom’s new West Coast headquarters opened last night in a raucous cascade of music and optimism, uniting the creative forces of eight major brands in a soaring, aspirational space at the heart of Hollywood.

“This new Hollywood facility reinforces our presence in the world’s entertainment capital, connecting us more deeply with the creative community and bringing inspiration for our employees, who help us deliver world-class entertainment and unforgettable stories to our audiences every day,” said Viacom President and CEO Bob Bakish. “We wanted to create a space that encourages collaboration, creativity and innovation, and gives creators and employees the tools they need to do their best work.”

Bakish shared a huge stage at the launch party, addressing hundreds of employees between performances by Flo Rida and Snoop Dogg (posing as DJ Snoopadelic), star of VH1’s hit Martha & Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party and executive producer of MTV’s Mary + Jane. Deadline, Hollywood Reporter and Variety all posted vivid dispatches of the wild outdoor scene.

Viacom Hollywood Office Grand Opening
Viacom Hollywood Office Grand Opening
Stuart Stuart

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 26: A general view of atmosphere during the Viacom Hollywood Office Grand Opening on January 26, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Viacom) Read More

Viacom Hollywood Office Grand Opening
Viacom Hollywood Office Grand Opening
Stuart Stuart

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 26: Guests attend the Viacom Hollywood Office Grand Opening on January 26, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Viacom) Read More

Viacom Hollywood Office Grand Opening
Viacom Hollywood Office Grand Opening
Stuart Stuart

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 26: Shari Redstone, Vice Chair of the Board of Directors for Viacom, Inc attends the Viacom Hollywood Office Grand Opening on January 26, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Viacom) Read More

Viacom Hollywood Office Grand Opening
Viacom Hollywood Office Grand Opening
Stuart Stuart

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 26: Rapper Snoop Dogg performs at the Viacom Hollywood Office Grand Opening on January 26, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Viacom) Read More

Viacom Hollywood Office Grand Opening
Viacom Hollywood Office Grand Opening
Stuart Stuart

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 26: Rapper Flo Rida performs at the Viacom Hollywood Office Grand Opening on January 26, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Viacom) Read More

Viacom Hollywood Office Grand Opening
Viacom Hollywood Office Grand Opening
Stuart Stuart

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 26: Atmosphere at the Viacom Hollywood office grand opening on January 26, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Maury Phillips/Getty Images for Viacom) Read More

Viacom Hollywood Office Grand Opening
Viacom Hollywood Office Grand Opening
Stuart Stuart

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 26: (L-R) Rapper Flo Rida, Viacom Vice-Chairwoman Shari Redstone, Director and Cheif Liason Mayor's Office of Film and Television Production Kevin James and Viacom President and CEO Bob Bakish attend Viacom Hollywood Offic… Read More

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Critics “Spellbound” With “Beautiful and Thought-Provoking” Arrival

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom
A scene from the film ARRIVAL by Paramount Pictures

A scene from the film Arrival by Paramount Pictures

We don’t really know if or when space aliens will drop out of the sky, or whether they’ll come bearing the secrets of interstellar travel or a boring machine to hallow out Earth’s core. But we do know this: when Denis Villeneuve-directed Arrival invades theaters tomorrow, we’re going to collectively witness one of the most well-crafted guesses yet as to how the encounter between earthlings and interstellar guests could go.

Says who? Well, pretty much everyone:

Arrival is such a beautiful and thought-provoking film that it almost single-handedly makes up for every bad aliens-coming-to-Earth film you’ve ever seen. Yes, even Independence Day: Resurgence. The latest from director Denis Villeneuve (Sicario) is a sci-fi movie about life, death and learning a literally alien language on a deadline. Amy Adams turns in one of her best performances, Jeremy Renner shows he’s just as good a math geek as an Avenger, and Villeneuve puts a gorgeous and rich narrative on screen that’s as much about miscommunication among humans as it is communication with extraterrestrials.” – Bill Truitt, USA Today

“The dozen alien vessels in Arrival – stormcloud black, prolate hemispheroids the size of upended airports – aren’t easy to miss. But for sheer neck-craning scale, the film’s ideas and ambitions match them inch for inch. The magnificent new film from Denis Villeneuve is the kind of science fiction picture that hands its audience rocket packs, then goes arcing off into the heavens and dares you to keep up.” – Robbie Collin, The Telegraph

Arrival plays like a high-end, handsomely appointed, feature-length version of a classic Twilight Zone episode. Most of the thrills and chills are of the intellectual and philosophical sort, and we’re asked to take a leap of faith when it comes to the time-space continuum, and why not, let’s do it.” – Richard Roeper, Chicago Sun Times

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