Popular Nickelodeon cartoon springs to life in Tina Landau’s effervescent production.
By: Patrick Christiano
December 10, 2017: SpongeBob SquarePants, a musical based on a Nickelodeon cartoon character, may prove to be the biggest surprise of the Broadway season. Tina Landau’s enchanting production is a silly merriment bursting with energy and optimism that’s unapologetically geared to the young at heart. David Zinn’s costumes and animated sets are a dazzling kaleidoscope of color, and although the evening is a bit over-stuffed with a running time of 2 hours and 20 minutes, the theatrical staging is a continuous giddy delight.
The irrepressible title character is embodied by the loose-limbed Ethan Slater, who delivers an animated performance that miraculously conveys the essence of a sponge without any prosthetics. He has a powerhouse voice and wears suspendered pants with a shirt and tie to play a square yellow sponge, and he makes it work. He is mind bogglingly wonderful, and just so good natured and full of joy that he bubbles with good will for everyone and everything.
However, when a volcano threatens to blow up their beautiful under-the-sea island, affectionately called Bikini Bottom, SpongeBob and his squirrel friend, Sandy, played by Lilli Cooper, make it their mission to save their idyllic world. We embark with them on an amazingly crafted 3D adventure that’s a feast for both, eyes and ears.
Landau made a risky choice with the music by using a strikingly diverse score of new and original songs by pop artists that includes Cyndi Lauper, David Bowie, John Legend, Sara Bareilles, The Flaming Lips, Panic! At the Disco, T.I., Lady Antebellum, and Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith. However, with Music supervisor Tom Kitt, Landau makes magic by creating a unifying style of goofy good fun that manages to bring all the songs into the same zany world. Kitt and Landau are nothing short of brilliant together. Each musical number is a dazzling display of vivid show stopping elements that work perfectly with David Zinn’s bold witty set.
In “Super Sea Star Savior,” a gospel number by Yolanda Adams, SpongeBob’s lazy starfish friend Patrick, played by Danny Skinner, is hilariously worshipped by a cult of sardines. And the show stopper, “I’m Not a Loser” by They Might Be Giants, choreographed by Christopher Gattelli, is simply ingenious. SpongeBob’s negative neighbor, Squidward Q. Tentacle played by Gavin Lee, performs a blazing four-legged tap dance routine, surrounded by a chorus line of fluffy pink sea anemones that may be the most memorable production number of an evening full of imaginative dazzling moments.
Production conceived and directed by Tina Landau. Choreography by Christopher Gattelli. Music Supervision, orchestrations & arrangements by Tom Kitt. Sets & costumes, David Zinn; lighting, Kevin Adams; sound, Walter Trarbach; projections, Peter Nigrini; hair, Charles G. LaPointe; makeup, Joe Dulude II; Foley Design; production stage manager, Julia Jones.
SpongeBob Square Pants is now playing at the Palace Theatre, 1564 Broadway at 47th Street. For tickets call 877-250-2999 or online at spongebobbroadway.com
Photography: Joan Marcus