The print on this review should be in a variety of neon colors. While you are reading it on your computer, it would be fitting if I entered your house from above, suspended from a wire wearing a jet-pack on top of the most outrageous costume you can imagine. I will start singing to you about the show — with dancing and singing fish backing me up — and we’ll be interrupted by a Newscaster, a Pirate, and the Mayor. All of them will vie for your attention and meanwhile an evil villain will be plotting against me.
SpongeBob SquarePants - The Broadway Musical has captured all the silly, goofy, broadly camp, good-natured fun of the Nickelodeon TV series. And it is a rare feat to effectively translate style and comedy from one genre to another. Tina Landau, the conceiver and director, succeeds marvelously. She leaves no shell unturned in Bikini Bottom, the show’s oceanic locale.
More of a revue than a book musical, SpongeBob SquarePants aims to amuse, dazzle, and delight along the journey — topping each visual topper and playing with props in every imaginable way: glow in the dark neon rectangles that reconfigure to form shapes, dancing letters, and characters flattened to 2-dimensions when hit by a boulder that emerges from a Rube Goldberg-like device. The plot — and this really doesn’t merit a spoiler alert — is that the characters world may come to an end due to a volcanic eruption. Now strap yourselves in for the joy ride to armageddon.
Songs come courtesy of a lengthy list of prestigious pop and rock artists e.g.: Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith, Sara Bareilles, Cyndi Lauper, John Legend, They Might Be Giants, and Plain White T’s, to name some but not all.
The real star of the show is not the Starfish (Danny Skinner), nor Spongebob (Ethan Slater), nor Pearl Krabs, played by Jai’Len Josey, whose voice was so beautifully strong and clear that it made me get misty-eyed, nor any of the other fine musical theater performers who bring to life these animated characters. It is David Zinn, credited with Scenic and Costume Design.
Mr. Zinn should get his credit above the title, so dazzling and enjoyable is his work. Pink umbrellas lifted up and down become a sea of jellyfish, a newscaster’s jacket and pants have color bands that look like the old “off the air” bands of color that remained frozen on a TV set in the wee hours of the morning, and Squidward Q. Tentacles (Gavin Lee) four legs were jiggered so that they moved in synchronicity during his show-stopping tap dance fantasy of fame replete with Ziegfeld Follies-esque choreography. There were times in the show where I simply didn’t care about the lyrics — best, by the way, when they were very simple, childlike, and sparse (otherwise they were difficult to discern over the orchestra) — due to the extraordinary costuming and set design.
SpongeBob SquarePants is not for those who might want a deeper (emotionally, not in fathoms) experience. It is for those who love non-stop creativity in costume, design, color, lighting, choreography, zany comedy, and madcap mayhem. If that is your cup of saltwater, swim down to the Palace Theatre and prepare to be swept up in a tidal wave of bubbling entertainment.
(Photo by Joan Marcus)
What the popular press says...
"For what it’s worth — and we’re talking millions of dollars here — you are never going to see as convincing an impersonation of a two-dimensional cartoon by a three-dimensional human as that provided by Ethan Slater at the Palace Theater. Mr. Slater plays the title role in SpongeBob SquarePants - The Broadway Musical, the ginormous giggle of a show."
Ben Brantley for New York Times
"Fun is the name of the game in this family-friendly production. But it also offers grown-up insights about community, friendship, intolerance and blindly putting one’s faith in others. Just a simple Sponge? SpongeBob, at the Palace Theatre, is simply a pleasure."
Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News
"In the end, SpongeBob succeeds because [Tina] Landau and [David] Zinn make even the most complicated musical staging look and feel like child’s play. It wants you to have fun. Soak it in."
Adam Feldman for Time Out New York
"While the cartoon is beloved of children, stoners and children who grew up to be stoners during its two decades on air, I confess I had never been drawn to linger long in Bikini Bottom, the character's underwater home. And for much of the show I was dazed by the sensory overload of Tina Landau's acid-trip production while groaning at its fusillade of cornball aquatic puns and absence of musical cohesion. But whether it wore me down like coral erosion or grew on me like algae, the show's unstinting commitment to anarchic plotting, goopy sentiment and bonkers ADHD juvenilia had me grinning like an idiot, even before I got knocked in the head with an inflated plastic orb (lawsuit pending) during the crowd-pleasing closing number."
David Rooney for Hollywood Reporter
"Without a signature sound, there’s no signature style. What there is, though, is plenty of giddy, goofy fun for all."
Marilyn Stasio for Variety
External links to full reviews from popular press...