Recommended *** Having eight grandkids, I have spent a great deal of time, sitting in front of a television set watching the antics of SpongeBob and his community in Bikini Bottom. When I first heard that a new musical was being created using these characters, I was a bit taken aback, by what type of show it might be- a kids show? A big scale musical? I knew that Nickelodeon would never take us under the sea and leave us scratching our heads, so I went to the theater tonight with only one question, just who is this show designed for?
Before I give you my answer, let me tell you that what they have created for the show titled “The SpongeBob Musical”, is a very cute setting. The theater has been converted to Bikini Bottom (David Zinn, who has also designed some wonderful costumes allowing the actors to be the sea creatures they were designed to be). The Book by Kyle Jarrow , who has written a specific tale with the characters created by Stephen Hillerburg, where a volcano is going to erupt, which will destroy Bikini Bottom and leave all of our characters without a home. Someone must take the lead and save the community.
The story is well told, albeit, a bit longer than it need be. Running time with an intermission is 2 hours-25 minutes. As they think “Broadway”, they might want to look at cutting a few bits here and there. When the show begins, we see several of the musicians onstage, including the Music Director, Julie McBride, who plays a major part in the show, in addition to conducting the orchestra. Her interplay with the characters is very cute and should not be touched. I think the prologue with Patchy the Pirate (Jason Michael Snow), SpongeBob’s number one fan is a bit much and despite a cute number in the second act, is probably a place where time can be shaved off. I found that the kids in the audience became restless, as did a few adults.
There are some wonderful portrayals which is not easy for an actor- playing a fish or a squirrel, but they pull it off. I should also mention that under the direction of Tina Landau, I expected smooth sailing and as always, she came through with flying colors. Using some great “schtick” (some of which came directly from Pee-Wee Hermans Big Adventure” and some emulating “Lion King” puppetry and use of the aisles, but they all seemed to fit. Even her use of the streamers at the finale (very Disney-like) and the balls being bounced around (“Blue Man Group”) worked. The purpose of theater is to be entertained and we were. Kudos to Choreographer Christopher Gattelli for some marvelous dance numbers, one of which is a true show-stopper “I’m Not A Loser” as performed by Squidward (Gavin Lee reminded me of a Paul Lynde that could tap dance and sing on key-just watching this number is worth going to see this show) and the ensemble. What a number!
Ethan Slater is a powerful SpongeBob SquarePants. An actor that has great agility, a solid voice and fits the character to a tee. After all, it has to be difficult to play a sponge. His best friend Patrick Star is played to perfection by Danny Skinner, and the third member of the heroes who save Bikini Bottom is Sandy Cheeks (deftly handled by Lilli Cooper). The rest of the townspeople or should I say townsfish are Carlos Lopez as SpongeBob’s boss Eugene Crabs, Nick Blaemire as the devilish Sheldon Plankton, Stephanie Hsu, Gaelen Gilliland, Abby C. Smith, Allan K. Washington, Mark Ledbetter( who also serves as the French Narrator), Emmy Raver-Lampman, Kelvin Moon-Loh, Curtis Holbrook, Lauralynn McClelland, L’ogan J’ones and JC Schuster who with Vasthy Mompoint play the security guards who chase the Pirate out several times- great work as they change costumes and characters as well as handle puppets. Holbrook, J’Ones and Schuster are in top form as The Electric Skates doing “Bikini Bottom Boogie written by Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith. Great skateboarding and roller skating as well. The Foley/percussion by Michael Dobson is magical. For those of you unfamiliar, the Foley is the sound effects person, and radio came to life with these talented people. They could make us close our eyes and hear just what they wanted us to hear.
One more thing, the music. The “SpongeBob Theme Song” written by Hillenburg, Mark Harrison,Derek Drymon and Blasie Smith has to be there. Other musical numbers are written by They Might Be Giants, Andy Paley and Tom Kenny, Jonathan Coulton (“Bikini Bottom Day”), Cyndi Lauper, Yolanda Adams, Lady Antebellum and more. Lots of styles and forms and all in place to move the story along except for the “Poor Pirates” number to open the second act which is there to give Patchy a solid song. While I am still not 100% sure who the audience is for this show, I would have to think younger families will be drawn to it as a shared entertainment. Jane and I are very IN grandparents, but I would think that most kids will share the “toons” with Mom and Dad, so therefore, this show would be for them as a unit. It has all the ingredients, just needs a little skin taken off so it wont be as long and crusty ( a little fish humor).
“The SpongeBob Musical” will remain in Chicago thru Sunday, July 10th at the Oriental Theatre located at 24 West Randolph Street with performances as follows:
Wednesdays 2 and 7:30 p.m.
Thursdays 7:30 p.m.
Fridays 7:30 p.m.
Saturdays 2 and 8 p.m.
Sundays 2 p.m.
Tickets range from $33 to $100 ( I imagine once it opens on Broadway, tickets will be higher, and when it returns to Chicago as part of a future Broadway In Chicago season, as well) and can be purchased at any of the Broadway In Chicago theaters, by calling the Broadway In Chicago Ticketline at 800-775-2000, at all Ticketmaster outlets or online at http://www.BroadwayInChicago.comTo learn more visit wwwTheSpongeBobMusical.com
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “SpongeBob Musical”.