SpongeBob SquarePants’ Glittering, Inventive Set Design Wins Tony

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

Glittering and inventive, a burst of pastels evoking its cartoon namesake, the set of SpongeBob SquarePants the Broadway Musical pumps riotous life into the critically acclaimed show. On Sunday evening, that backdrop, designed by Broadway veteran David Zinn, earned a Tony Award for Best Scenic Design of a Musical.

The set design, which The New York Times describes as “a bright, found-object aesthetic that mixes Pee-wee’s Playhouse, Etsy craft, classic MGM musicals and acid-house clubland,” marks Zinn’s second Tony (he earned top honors for Scenic Design of a Play in 2016 for his work on The Humans), and seventh nomination (he also earned a nomination for SpongeBob in this year’s costume design category).

The set bursts with an inventive array of found objects repurposed as SpongeBob’s undersea domain: pool noodles, floaty devices, shopping carts, umbrellas, surfboards. “In terms of influences, we referenced this sort of ’60s beach culture viewed through an ’80s sensibility,” Zinn told Time Out New York. “It was all about achieving beauty through a fun sensibility and simple materials.”

SpongeBob SquarePants, which earned a dozen total Tony nominations, is one of two current Broadway shows inspired by Viacom’s deep well of intellectual property. The other, Mean Girls, based on the 2004 Paramount Pictures film of the same name, earned 12 nominations. Both are an important part of Viacom’s deliberate strategic move into live events, where fans can connect with beloved characters in a new formats.

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.

Viacom Takes 5 Daytime Creative Arts Emmy Awards

Viacom took five categories (and earned one special recognition), at the 45th Daytime Creative Arts Emmy Awards, with Nickelodeon, Logo TV and MTV snagging statuettes for dazzling short-form digital content, feature-length films and children’s television.

Under the Nickelodeon umbrella, perennial fan-favorite SpongeBob SquarePants was recognized for its superb animated storytelling with two awards and a special recognition for its creator, Stephen Hillenburg, for his impactful work in the animation and broadcast world. Nick Jr. was awarded for Girls In Charge, an inspirational PSA aimed at preschool girls. The spot features fierce girl power courtesy of Nick Jr. girl characters, like Dora from Dora the Explorer and Nella from Nella the Princess Knight.

MTV and Logo TV both earned accolades for distinguished digital storytelling. Logo TV’s harrowing documentary on renowned makeup artist and LGBT figure Kevyn Aucoin (Kevyn Aucoin: Beauty & The Beast In Me) topped the Outstanding Special Class Special category. MTV won for its work creating a PSA, Undocumented and Afraid, for Logo TV’s film Forbidden, a motivational and informing film centered on LGBT-immigrant issues.

Take a look at Viacom’s winning content:

Nickelodeon

SpongeBob SquarePants – Outstanding Children’s Animated Series

SpongeBob SquarePants – Outstanding Performer in an Animated Program (Tom Kenny, as SpongeBob SquarePants)

Daytime Emmy Awards Special Recognition

Stephen Hillenburg, creator of SpongeBob SquarePants, earned a special recognition for his contributions to animation.

Nick Jr.

Nick Jr.’s Girls in Charge Campaign  Brand Image Campaign – Network or Program

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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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A New York Employee’s Walk Through the Wondrous World of Nickelodeon Animation in Burbank

In March, I visited the home of Nickelodeon Animation in Burbank. I had seen photos and video footage of the pristine site after its renovation in January 2017, and was eager to appreciate its innovative features in real life.

After arriving at the front gate, a tall metal structure off Olive Avenue, I entered into a sprawling menagerie of botanical wonders, stone statues of iconic Nick characters like SpongeBob, retro-looking lawn furniture in splashy shades of orange, pink, green and blue; honey bees and towering palms.

And this is just the courtyard.

The five-story building has a free-form layout; its floor-to-ceiling glass walls serving as a circulatory system for creative collaboration. The campus seamlessly connects animation and live-action studios with offices, a café, screening room, employee lounges and more pockets of relaxation and entertainment.

Burbank Animation’s on-site screening room:

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Viacom Scores 14 Daytime Emmy Nominations Across Three Brands

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

​Viacom has locked in 14 Daytime Emmy Awards nominations across three brands, underscoring the company’s appeal across dayparts and demographics.

Top kids’ brand Nickelodeon scored a dozen nominations, including one for Outstanding Children’s Animated Series (SpongeBob SquarePants), and three for Outstanding Daytime Promotional Announcement Brand Image Campaign. Logo TV and MTV each earned one nomination.

Check out this video created by Viacom Catalyst for the full list of Viacom Daytime Emmy nominees:

The 45th annual Daytime Emmy Awards will take place at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium on April 29, 2018. Scroll through the 14 Viacom nominees below, and view the full list here.

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Nickelodeon Is Pumped for Partnerships: Vans Sneakers, Hasbro Games and More

On Saturday, Feb. 24, Nickelodeon and Vans kicked off Vans X SpongeBob, a glorious mash-up of vintage 90s skate style and old-school Nickelodeon cartoons. SpongeBob SquarePants first aired in 1999, and the show is still running today—yet thanks to Bikini Bottom’s underwater setting and a nautical, pastel color palette, Nickelodeon’s hit series has a definitive retro vibe.

Courtesy of Nickelodeon.

The fact that SpongeBob boasts nearly two decades of airtime (and counting) means the quirky sea sponge has a fan base ranging from adult millennials to youngsters growing up with the show today. Fortunately, this new collection offers sizes for toddlers.

Courtesy of Nickelodeon.

The design showcases iconic characters including the eponymous SpongeBob, his best friend Patrick Star and the vile Plankton splashed against canvass, on Vans’ classic slip-on and Sk8-Hi styles (plus apparel, accessories and skateboards). Take a look at the full collection here.

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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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Nickelodeon Helps Break Bread and Boundaries for Child Refugees

Children mingle with SpongeBob at Viacom’s Times Square headquarters during a UNICEF Refugee Welcome Dinner in partnership with Purpose and Playworks. Photo by Tatiana Cadet.

Twenty people are forcibly displaced every minute as a result of conflict or persecution. This adds up to 65.6 million people around the world, 22.5 million of whom are refugees – a person forced from their country to escape war, persecution, or a natural disaster. Unfortunately, these stateless wanderers are not always met with open arms. Many are denied a nationality and access to basic rights when the countries they flee to struggle to cope with the influx.

Companies across the U.S. have stepped up for refugees who struggle to find a community and a place to call home. Here at Viacom, Nickelodeon’s pro-social team recently participated in UNICEF’s Refugee Welcome Dinners, along with the organization’s local partner agency, Purpose, and Nickelodeon’s Worldwide Day of Play partner Playworks, which uses play to improve children’s physical health and social and emotional learning. UNICEF brought kids and families from Guatemala, Mexico, Guinea, Venezuela, Botswana, and the Central African Republic to the Lodge cafeteria at Viacom’s Times Square headquarters to join the Playworks kids for a Nickelodeon-style pizza party.

The gathering was complete with a Paw Patrol AR pictures booth, a four-square recess game, and a dancing SpongeBob SquarePants. Kid-friendly Top 40 music filled the air, and the kids showed off their best Backpack Kid dances. Tables topped with orange table cloths and piles of candy adorned the space and a Nickelodeon promo video took over the Lodge television screens.

Children mingle with SpongeBob at Viacom’s Times Square headquarters during a UNICEF Refugee Welcome Dinner in partnership with Purpose and Playworks. Photo by Tatiana Cadet.

Regardless of race or creed, each guest came together and broke bread and boundaries, in the true spirit of Viacommunity. The event in its entirety made a powerful statement about the importance of tolerance, positivity and acceptance. Above all, it showcased the true impact that joining together in play has on the wellness of children’s souls.

Nick Nostalgia Trip Continues with Hey Arnold! and Rocko’s Modern Life Movie Trailers at Comic Con

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

Nickelodeon unleashed a pair of nostalgia-infused trailers at last week’s San Diego Comic Con, promoting TV movies that will revisit fondly remembered series from the 1990s and early 2000s: Hey Arnold! and Rocko’s Modern Life.

“Nickelodeon rolled into Comic-Con 2017 with the most effective weapon they could possibly unleash on millennials: nostalgia,” wrote Katie Buenneke in L.A. Weekly. “As always, Nick isn’t just catering to kids — and now they’re specifically targeting the generation of now-adult kids who grew up on Nick’s animated programming.”

via GIPHY

Hey Arnold!, which ran on Nick from 1996 to 2004, is set in the streets of Hillwood, a sort of Portland-Brooklyn-Seattle mash-up where fourth grader Arnold lives in an inner-city boarding house with his grandparents. Kind and unassuming, Arnold is a low-key bully-battling hero who is perpetually helpful to those in need.

This no-judgement, all-are-welcome Mr. Fix It persona endeared Arnold to a whole generation of Nick viewers. “90s kids who grew up with the show Hey Arnold! love it because main man Arnold is earnestly cool and selfless to everyone in his neighborhood and PS 118,” writes Inquirer.net’s Niña V. Guno.

It turns out that nice ages well. Fast forward to 2017. Arnold has aged one year. He is prepping to enter sixth grade. Best bud Gerald has organized a rooftop tribute to Arnold’s relentless do-goodery. And then we find out that this crew is sending their urban hero to the (fictional) Central American nation of San Lorenzo, where his parents disappeared back in the 90s.

Hey Arnold! creator Craig Bartlett talks a bit more about the characters’ updated styles and teases Arnold’s destination:

Rocko’s Modern Life, which ran on Nick from 1993 to ’96, followed the titular anthropomorphic immigrant wallaby and his crew – Heffer the steer and Filburt the turtle – through the fantasyland of their fictional city, O-Town. Despite its short-ish run, the series retains a loyal fanbase.

“The fourth Nicktoon to debut, Rocko’s Modern Life boasts a sizable cult to this day, largely thanks to the fact that it tosses a bunch of goofily animated animals straight out of a brightly colored Sunday comic strip into the midst of decidedly mundane situations, from visiting the DMV to flying on a plane to cleaning an apartment,” A.V. Club’s Todd VanDerWerff wrote more than a decade and a half after the final episode aired.

That final episode – or at least what the creators intended to be the final episode – sent Rocko and his posse deep into space, where they have been floating about (along with an impudent monkey and bunches of bananas) ever since.

via GIPHY

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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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