Broadway By Design: David Zinn, Walter Trarbach & Mike Dobson Bring SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS from Page to Stage
Who is Annie without her red dress? Or Eva with out her balcony? It is the charge of the Broadway designer to transport the audience into the world of a show, whether it be Great Depression-era New York City or outside of the Casa Rosada.
In Broadway by Design, BroadwayWorld is shining a spotlight on the stellar designs of this Broadway season, show by show. Today, we continue the series with David Zinn (scenic & costume designer), Walter Trarbach, and Mike Dobson (sound designers), all of whom were nominated for Tony Awards for Broadway's new under the sea adventure, SpongeBob Squarepants.
Stakes are higher than ever before as SpongeBob and all of Bikini Bottom face the total annihilation of their undersea world. Chaos erupts. Lives hang in the balance. And just when all hope seems lost, a most unexpected hero rises up and takes center stage. Get ready to dive to all-new depths of theatrical innovation at SpongeBob SquarePants, where the power of optimism really can save the world!
Where did Zinn begin in translating the cartoon's iconic look to the stage? "The lunacy and anarchy of the world of Bikini Bottom as mapped out in the cartoon, especially in its first few seasons where the DNA of the show was really solidified, was a great jumping off point," says Zinn. "From the beginning, Tina Landau (our intrepid and fearless captain) wanted the world the audience enters to be all-encompassing, fun, and constantly surprising, so that's a pretty inspiring set of marching orders, in addition to knowing that the score was going to be made up so many different voices and bands which suggested an eclectic, wild, and musical ride."
"While inspiration came from EVERYWHERE, if I had to describe our vibe I would say 60's beach culture reimagined in the 80s east village through the lens of a bunch of queer, crazy, show-biz loving modern vaudevillians who want you, your parents, and your kids to all have a Really. Good. Time."
Zinn's biggest challenges came with humanizing the characters. "Since we're watching a human cast, not an animated show, and celebrating their live-ness and richness and human-ness, how do we find a way to capture the physics-breaking vocabulary of the cartoon with three-dimensional humans who are (barely...) tethered by gravity and human limitations," he explains. "How do we constantly surprise, subvert and explode the idea of what people can do, how they move, their scale and shape?"
"I feel like that was the greatest challenge for all of us as we made our own Bikini Bottom. Keeping the vocabulary humble or...I guess not super-technical, so as not to lose the humanness of our characters, but also never letting the surprises die down. Also, how to make the zillion inflated plastic balls that make up a lot of Bikini Bottom both fire-proof and never-deflating. And shiny," says Zinn.
Sound designers Walter Trarbach and Mike Dobson also drew inspiration from the cartoon. "Even before I was working on the show, I've been inspired by the humor and the absurdity of SpongeBob's sound design. There is a lot to learn from a joke like "The guy with glass bones and paper skin," says Mike.
Walter found his inspiration later. "[It was] the zany, collaborative spirit of the entire process. From the development of the material, to action on stage, to the panoply of musical styles, I did my best to appropriately serve the show as a whole," he explains.
The sound designers found their biggest challenge in the scale of the show. "We had to figure out how to deal with actors in the audience, actors playing live musical instruments, tap dancing, intricate sound effect sequences, crazy costumes, large set pieces out in the audience, and a vast array of musical styles and instrumentation," says Walter.
"During the creation, my biggest challenge was getting all the pieces together and doing it all at once, live in performance," explains Mike. "The first few times we did run throughs, it felt impossible. Now, it's obviously a lot more comfortable, but the challenge is to stay present and connected with the actors and move with their subtle adjustments night to night."
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Reimagining the beloved Nickelodeon series, SpongeBob SquarePants: The Musical, now playing at Broadway's Palace Theatre (1564 Broadway at West 47th Street), explodes with energy and features an original pop and rock-infused score by a legendary roster of Grammy® Award-winning songwriters. Led and conceived by visionary director Tina Landau and a Tony Award®-winning design team, this new musical brings the spirit of SpongeBob to life with humanity, heart, and pure theatricality. SpongeBob SquarePants features a book by Kyle Jarrow, music supervision, orchestrations and arrangements by Tom Kitt and choreography by Christopher Gattelli.
SpongeBob SquarePants is a one-of-a-kind Broadway musical event with original songs by Yolanda Adams, Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith, Sara Bareilles, Jonathan Coulton, Alexander Ebert of Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, The Flaming Lips, Lady Antebellum, Cyndi Lauper, John Legend, Panic! At the Disco, Plain White T's, They Might Be Giants and T.I., and a song by David Bowie and by Tom Kenny and Andy Paley. Additional lyrics by Jonathan Coulton. Additional music by Tom Kitt.