Inside THE SPONGEBOB MUSICAL: Director and Co-Creator Tina Landau

By: May. 25, 2016
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Broadway World Chicago goes for a deep dive all the way to Bikini Bottom all this week with our coverage of the new show THE SPONGEBOB MUSICAL.

Today we sit down with director and co-creator Tina Landau.

What attracted you to this piece?Two things attracted me. One is the character of SpongeBob himself. He is the eternal optimist who has a contagious spirt of joy and positivity. He sees all the possibility in the world. I felt like I wanted to be around a character like that. I wanted to be in his company and learn from him. The second thing was world of Bikini Bottom. It's a world inspired by Dada, the Surrealists and psychedelics. It's a very wacky, visual universe. It felt like it would be a challenge and a real high to work on and be inside on. Here is a character I love and care about and a theatrical world that will force me to work to the outer limits.

The plot -in which fear is tearing a community apart - sounds quasi-topical. Is this intentional? What we did was to try and find a great story that would have high stakes and an emotional core. In looking for the high stakes, we thought what's the highest stake? The world might end. You don't get any higher stakes than that. From there, we started to think about the ways in which a community might to deal with and respond to the possibility that the world might end. People turn on each other and react out of fear. We never attempted to make it topical. Almost the opposite, in fact. The deeper we went, the more realized it looked a bit like our world. We have not shied away from that. It will allow the show to be accessible and fun for kids and be slightly topical, satirical and edgy for adults.

You are known for directing large-scale, epic ensemble pieces. How does this show fit into your wheelhouse? This is the story of a community. It's the story of an entire town. We have a cast of 19. 6 are principles and the rest play a very large number of characters. There is a slightly panoramic feel to the citizenry of Bikini Bottom.

What has been the biggest challenge or opportunity while translating this to the stage? The challenges have been really stylistically how to take that cartoon logic and translate it in a way that is neither literal nor representational. This is going to sound like the strangest reference, but I'm going to quote (avant-garde playwright) Richard Foreman: every time you direct, you have a chance to create a universe on stage, what the laws are, how time or even gravity works. We are creating Bikini Bottom in a way that is not beholden to the TV show, but is inspired by it.

While it is hard to imagine someone out there who is unfamiliar with "SpongeBob SquarePants," will the piece be accessible to people unfamiliar with the show? Absolutely! People who don't know the TV should have a blast with our adventure. The cartoon isn't something we shied away from, though. There is no reason why we should try to be the cartoon, though. Nickelodeon only wanted to produce it if we were able to open up the world of Bikini Bottom in a way that audiences have previously not seen.

The pre-Broadway World Premiere of The SpongeBob Musical will begin performances on Tuesday, June 7 at the Oriental Theatre (24 W. Randolph St., Chicago, IL) in a limited engagement through July 10, 2016. - See more at: