Interview with SpongeBob SquarePants star Ethan Slater
Ethan Slater, at the mere age of 25, has been plucked from the masses and propelled into Broadway stardom. His performance as the popular title character in SpongeBob SquarePants at the Palace Theatre - Nickelodeon's first-ever Broadway musical - has earned him virtually every theatre award nomination going this season, including a Tony Award nod for "Best Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical" alongside seasoned veterans such as Tony Shalhoub, Joshua Henry, and UK star Harry Hadden-Paton. And in our humble opinion, Ethan is more than deserving to be listed among such established stage actors and may even take home the trophy, when it's all said and done. He has already been awarded the Outer Critics Circle Award for "Outstanding Actor in a Musical" and will receive his Theatre World Award for "Outstanding Broadway Debut Performance" on June 4, 2018. Keep 'em coming, folks...
Born in New York and raised in Washington DC, Ethan is a Vassar College alum and now a permanent resident at Bikini Bottom - the fictional underwater town, made famous by the SpongeBob cartoon - where every day is the "Best Day Ever"!
On a recent venture outside of Bikini Bottom, we caught up with Ethan to talk about the challenges of bringing a 2D cartoon character to life, what surprises audiences the most about the mammoth Nickelodeon musical, and his favorite musical number from the esteemed list of contributers to the SpongeBob score...
Ethan Slater, you are putting the work in at the Palace Theatre! How do you keep going?!
I am really bolstered by my cast mates and by my friends who are in that theatre. It’s an amazing ensemble piece. It’s a great group of people and I’m just having a blast, doing it every day. Of course, I also get physical therapy and voice lessons and all that good stuff!
What’s been the most rewarding and most challenging aspects of bringing a 2D cartoon character to life?
Oh, man! Well, the most challenging element of taking a 2D character and putting it on stage is making it feel real and making it feel grounded and truthful. It can be really easy to let the jokes overtake the humanity. Even though I’m playing a sponge, I’m also playing a human and a relatable person. That was a challenge that I had to keep on touching base with. When I’m doing a backbend and my head is nearly grazing the floor, I’m still connected to a real emotional place! (Laughs)
Indeed! He’s not just a simple sponge, Ethan! And there are messages in the musical also meant for those a little longer in the tooth, right?
Oh, yes! Absolutely! I think the “undercurrents” are really important to it…
Great water pun there!
Thank you, thank you! I’ve got my whale shoes on today. But it’s integral to the show. The story is about a community that turns on itself because of fear of the unknown. It’s about a group of people from that community who scapegoat one member [Sandy Cheeks] because she is different from them. It’s about people denying the fact that science may be the way to stop the volcano from exploding. At the end of the day it is about the fact that what is most important is embracing and loving one another in the face of that fear and not letting it overtake you. Sure, it’s an undercurrent and it’s not the thing we are saying in the show but those themes are critical and I think they are what the audience takes away with them when they leave.
What would you say surprises the audience the most, when they see the show? Do you think they leave the theatre with a different perception of the show than they had beforehand?
I would like to think that the biggest surprise is how innovative the presentation is of this character they already know. It’s not an “arena show”. I feel people might come in thinking it’s just a “kids’ show” and I don’t want to use that like it’s a bad word, but they think it’s just for kiddies. I think they leave realizing that we have worked really hard to create a show that truly appeals to everyone. It’s not a show that the kids will like and the parents will be OK with. It’s a show that the parents might leave the kids at home to come see. I think they’ll also be surprised to see how much of an explosive rock concert is happening on such a small stage.
And speaking of rock concerts, all those established musicians contributing to the score of SpongeBob SquarePants – Nickelodeon has really pulled out the big guns! What are your own personal favorites in the score?
Uh! Personal favorites? Ahhhhh… Right now, my personal favorite to sing is “(I Guess I) Miss You” by John Legend. It’s an unbelievably beautiful ballad. It’s gorgeous! And John Legend… C’mon! It’s an original song by John Legend… Anyway…
Tick that one off the bucket list!
I know, right! I’ve ticked about fifteen off my bucket list from this one score alone!
SpongeBob SquarePants Tickets are available now for performances through to September 2, 2018.