Are ya ready for SpongeBob SquarePants Broadway?

Silly and somehow grounded in reality, the SpongeBob musical has it all


(Spongebob Squarepants Official Facebook Page)

By Donnie Cadman, Collegian Correspondent

Yes, the idea that “SpongeBob SquarePants” is now being produced in the heart of Times Square as a musical is so ludicrous that the show should result in either Squidward’s band blowing the windows out or the Bubble Bowl Halftime Song, “Sweet Victory,” ringing loud for all to hear. The musical really shouldn’t work, and I’m still not sure if it even does, but that’s beside the point. For three hours, I was catapulted back into my childhood.

With the list of songwriters powering the performance’s soundtrack including but not limited to John Legend, Sara Bareilles, Aerosmith, Cyndi Lauper and the late David Bowie, there was a risk of the star-studded mashup not having the potential for cohesiveness.

Fortunately, the styles all managed to fit the SpongeBob theme, ranging from rock to pop to rap and including the interesting incorporation of ukuleles and kazoos.

Despite the show’s childish appropriations, I was relieved to find that its target audience was actually young adults who grew up on the original episodes. For the kids who grew up in the early 2000s, the Broadway show does not only reference the troupes of classic episodes (“My leg!,”) but goes beyond to involve serious life topics like self-fulfillment and long-term friendship that we have grown up with and are constantly talking about. Through all the “Bob-isms,” the story is, at its heart, a satire of the crazy things we would do in the face of the apocalypse.

In the opening number, our Sponge (Ethan Slater) gets ready for work as we see the town on a typical “Bikini Bottom Day.” Or at least it would be typical, if you mentally omit the detail about the giant underwater volcano threatening to destroy everything in 24 hours.

Our characters in panic, several citizens seek to benefit off of people’s fear. For example, Mr. Krabs (Brian Ray Norris) makes a profit by marketing the last Krabby Patties ever, while Patrick (Danny Skinner) is made the cult leader of a misguided sardine clique.

Plankton (Wesley Taylor) convinces the town through the hip-hop number, “When the Going Gets Tough,” to throw a rock concert to fund the building of an escape pod. But in reality, he and his computer-wife Karen (Stephanie Hsu) plan to brainwash them all into liking chum. Now, that just felt typical — in the best way.

Meanwhile, the famous sea squirrel Sandy Cheeks (Lilli Cooper) plans to make a device to stop the volcano from blowing up, but Plankton convinces the citizens that her science is the cause of the eruption in the first place, ultimately creating an angry mob which threatens to throw her out of town. In this series of unfortunate events, members of the aforementioned mob paint signs that say “Land Animals Go Home”— a symbolism akin to the ongoing social and political climate happening in real time.

The performance illuminated what young adults, as well as kids today, are growing-up with in the 21st century. Whether the “Bikini Bottomites” are making a profit, accepting false information to ease their fears or giving up their principles for safety, they were humanized in physical form by the actors.

Ultimately, the show provided a sense of gleaming hope in the main character, who tries to cheer everyone up while reassuring the masses that it will all be okay –– all while overcoming being labeled as average as the song, “Just a Simple Sponge,” shows us.

Through fear, argument and danger of climbing the volcano and tossing in the life-saving device Frodo Baggins-style, SpongeBob reveals how even the smallest bit of optimism, however naive, can help bring people together even as they face destruction. When faced with despair, being selfish only further tears people apart.

It’s only when we come together and appreciate the positive things left in the world, as in the song “Best Day Ever,” that we can regain our dignity and, just maybe, have a brighter tomorrow. Such a message may be old fashioned, but in our uncertain times, perhaps we could make it a little less square if we heard it from the square himself.

Bonus thoughts: two people stole the show in particular: Pearl (Jai’len Christine Li Josey) who belts her heart out about her dad’s greed blocking her out in “Daddy Knows Best,” and Squidward (Gavin Lee) who hilariously provides a healthy dose of cynicism to anchor our adult experience.

Donnie Cadman can be reached at [email protected]