So riotously colourful that it makes The Lion King look noir, SpongeBob SquarePants the Broadway Musical is a giddily gleeful confection of music and movement that rightfully takes its place as a fully fledged Broadway musical.
Given that SpongeBob is worth billions of dollars a year to Nickelodeon, the $US20 million or so to stage the eye-popping broadway spectacle is really just pocket change. This makes the real winners the audience, and the thought of what this production must look like to a child on potentially their first ever Broadway visit is mind-boggling.
SpongeBob SquarePants the Broadway Musical is the very rare show to make composition by committee work successfully. Each song is by a different composer – from Sara Bareilles to Cyndi Lauper, from John Legend to David Bowie. Broadway composer Tom Kitt has orchestrated and arranged the music to create a cohesive, toe-tapping sound.
While a good portion of the fun is seeing all the much-loved characters on stage, Kyle Jarrow’s book links the action with a solid story about a nearby volcano that threatens to destroy the sweet town of Bikini Bottom. Each of the leads get a story thread, with a series of feel-good payoffs by the finale.
Tina Landau, who conceived and directed the production, has a keen eye for what children enjoy. The full-length running time of 140 minutes (including interval) may be beyond toddlers, but to theatrically savvy kids, the time is sure to fly by in a haze of colour, music and witty invention.
Broadway choreographer Christopher Gattelli provides high energy moves for his athletic dancers, also creating quirky, stylistic movement for these live incarnations of zany animated creatures.
But the star of the show, apart from the cast, is David Zinn’s extraordinary designs. Zinn has crafted a spectacular underwater world in which everything is made from ocean detritus. Pool noodles, tyres, barrels, thongs, straws, boxes…there seems to be no limit to Zinn’s imaginative creativity. From the moment the audience enters the auditorium, there is a seemingly endless amount of colourful design elements to catch the eye.
Two of Zinn’s greatest creations are the installations flanking either side of the stage high overhead. Like the old board game Mousetrap, these constructions crank into operation to propel balls (boulders, in the storyline) onto the stage in the most entertaining way possible.
In a very clever touch, Zinn does not costume the actors in character suits; rather he captures the essence of each animated character in its human counterpart. Nowhere is this more successful than in the sensational performance of breakout star Ethan Slater as SpongeBob. The elastic, perky star makes an entirely adorkable SpongeBob, winning many hearts along the way.
As miserable cephalopod Squidward Q. Tentacles, relative veteran Gavin Lee tap dances with four legs (!!) in lavish production number “I’m Not A Loser.”
Wesley Taylor Is entertaining as toothless villain Sheldon Plankton. Jai’ Len Christine Li Josey sigs up a storm as starry-eyed whale, Pearl Krabs. Lilli Cooper is a vibrant presence as visiting squirrel, Sandy Cheeks.
I have to admit to initially thinking that this show was just for kids. Why should they have all the fun! The scale of production of SpongeBob SquarePants the Broadway Musical would be perfect for Melbourne’s Regent Theatre; hopefully we will see it there some day soon.
SpongeBob SquarePants the Broadway Musical was reviewed 6.30pm Sunday 8 April 2018 at Palace Theatre, New York where it plays an open run.
Photos: Joan Marcus