Review Roundup: Critics Visit Bikini Bottom for SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS ON BROADWAY
SpongeBob SquarePants on Broadway officially opens tonight, December 4th, at The Palace Theatre. SpongeBob SquarePants is a new musical with a book by Kyle Jarrow, music supervision, orchestrations and arrangements by Tom Kitt, choreography by Christopher Gattelli, and conceived and directed by Tina Landau.
The SpongeBob SquarePants cast includes Ethan Slater as SpongeBob SquarePants, Gavin Lee as Squidward Q. Tentacles, Lilli Cooper as Sandy Cheeks, Brian Ray Norris as Eugene Krabs, Wesley Taylor as Sheldon Plankton and Danny Skinner as Patrick Star.
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!
Let's see what the critics had to say!
Ben Brantley, The New York Times: For what it's worth - and we're talking millions of dollars here - you are never going to see as convincing an impersonation of a two-dimensional cartoon by a three-dimensional human as that provided by Ethan Slater at the Palace Theater. Mr. Slater plays the title role in "SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical," the ginormous giggle of a show that opened on Monday night.
Diane Snyder, The Telegraph: Now the grand playhouse has been transformed into a brightly festive Bikini Bottom, underwater home of that bubbly, lovable cartoon character and cultural phenomenon SpongeBob SquarePants, making his Broadway debut in a self-titled musical that's an absolute delight. Silly, heartfelt and charming, it has infectious songs written by an array of top music talent - from Aerosmith to Lady Antebellum to Cyndi Lauper - and it's been cleverly conceived and directed by the innovative Tina Landau.
Matt Windman, amNY: Despite some weak spots, the new Broadway musical adaptation of the Nickelodeon cartoon "SpongeBob SquarePants" works well enough as a lively, silly, trippy show appealing to kids, Millennials and anyone who has watched the TV show since it premiered in 1999.
Adam Feldman, Time Out New York: Are you ready? The splashy new Broadway musical SpongeBob SquarePants, whose arrival was greeted in some circles with sneers of anticipatory derision, turns out to be a joy. Like its irrepressible yellow hero, played by the peppy and limber-limbed Ethan Slater, the show is unabashedly committed to imagination and dorky enthusiasm. As SpongeBob and his squirrel friend, Sandy (Lilli Cooper), labor to save their undersea town-the cheekily named Bikini Bottom-from a local volcano, the wonders of Tina Landau's production pour from the stage in a ravishing stream of color and invention that sucks you into its merry, silly currents.
David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter: I confess I had never been drawn to linger long in Bikini Bottom, the character's underwater home. And for much of the show I was dazed by the sensory overload of Tina Landau's acid-trip production while groaning at its fusillade of cornball aquatic puns and absence of musical cohesion. But whether it wore me down like coral erosion or grew on me like algae, the show's unstinting commitment to anarchic plotting, goopy sentiment and bonkers ADHD juvenilia had me grinning like an idiot, even before I got knocked in the head with an inflated plastic orb (lawsuit pending) during the crowd-pleasing closing number.
Robert Hofler, TheWrap: What keeps "SpongeBob" afloat are the original songs by Sara Bareilles, Cyndi Lauper, John Legend and others. They range from gospel lite to ersatz heavy metal, and a few capture the infectious bounce of Joe Raposo's tunes for the early episodes of "Sesame Street."
Marilyn Stasio, Variety: Children should feel free to take their parents to Tina Landau's psychedelically inspired version of the whimsical kiddie cartoon show that's been making a fortune for Nickelodeon since 1999. Kyle Jarrow's book retains the two key elements of the Nicktoon: the cheerful sea sponge's unquenchable optimism and his selflessly heroic efforts to rescue his friends from whatever problems happen to pop up. But Landau's hallucinogenic stagecraft transcends the show's television origins by speaking a visual language that's three-dimensional and boldly theatrical.
Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune: It's a lot. You may have a headache. You may be encouraged in the view that kids cable franchises are best done in arenas with actors being forced to stick their heads inside animated costumes, if they are to be done at all. I think "SpongeBob" deserved and got more, and this is a sincere endeavor to elevate his gestalt. Not every attempt at singularity works - familiar tropes in the storytelling sometimes rear up and squelch the freshness - but, in its best moments, it is very much its own thing. Proudly so.
Joe Dziemianowicz, The Daily News: Fun is the name of the game in this family-friendly production. But it also offers grown-up insights about community, friendship, intolerance and blindly putting one's faith in others. Just a simple Sponge? "SpongeBob," at the Palace Theatre, is simply a pleasure.
Isabella Biedenharn, Entertainment Weekly: If that sounds like a lot... it is. A head-spinningly packed Act I spends far too long setting up these various threads, and keeping track of everything while taking in the wildly detailed and immersive set is quite a feat. Act II is much smoother, and features some of the show's highlights, like Squidward's gorgeous tap number (backed by a chorus line of anemones), and Sandy and SpongeBob's impressively gymnastic climb to the top of that volcano.
Tim Teeman, The Daily Beast: SpongeBob's goodness is of the wide-eyed and true variety. You follow his every thrilling step, right up to the climax where he limbers his amazing body through gaps and slats of what looks like a gigantic mechanical spider's web to do his best to prevent the explosion, a brilliant feat of directing by Tina Landau who ensures a ranging production makes smooth sense, while remaining an arresting and unpredictable visual delight.
Mark Shenton, The Stage: The score is a mash-up of original songs commissioned from pop names like Cyndi Lauper, John Legend, Panic! at the Disco, Sara Bareilles and the Plain White Ts, with older songs from David Bowie and Brian Eno, Tom Kenny and Andy Paley. This mix gives it plenty of contemporary culture credibility, but doesn't give the show a defining musical voice. Landau similarly throws everything at the staging from juggling and cycling to tap dance and skateboarding that makes it feel deliberately chaotic but also a bit relentless.
Steven Suskin, The Huffington Post: What, you might ask, does it signify when we start our discussion of a new musical by praising the sets and costumes? Well, just what you think it signifies. My guess is that SpongeBob SquarePants will be a favorite with its target audience, sending enchanted crowds pouring forth from the playhouse agog with delight and loaded down with show merchandise. Which, I suppose, is the goal of new Broadway musicals of this ilk. So everyone should be delighted, except for those who aren't.
Alexis Soloski, Guardian: That plot, which is meant to be high-stakes but comes across as bottom-feeder low, kicks off when the volcanic mount located inconveniently close to SpongeBob's hometown, Bikini Bottom, threatens to erupt. SpongeBob (a gleeful Ethan Slater), his best friend, Patrick Star (Danny Skinner), and his squirrel pal, Sandy Cheeks (Lilli Cooper, and yes, there's a squirrel under the sea), devise a scheme to keep it from erupting. But the bitsy supervillain Sheldon Plankton (Wesley Taylor) has other plans. There's also satire aimed at politics and the media; a brief subplot involving Krabby Patty profiteering; and something about a concert - all of it roundly ignorable.
Jeremy Gerard, Deadline: Indeed, the show works so hard to amuse us with irreverent kickiness that by the time we return from intermission, the stupor induced by the Act I assault on the senses may have been enhanced by alcohol to put you in a fog. So my advice: Stay away from the bar. For, first-act problems aside, this show, ingeniously staged by Tina Landau and choreographed by Christopher Gattelli within an inch of its CO2 life, has more to offer than we had any right to expect in this era of dreary Broadway knockoffs of Hollywood dross. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, eat your heart out.
Peter Marks, Washington Post: I can tell you this: Much impressive design and engineering work has gone into this $20 million production, which has been guided with an eye for childlike delight by Landau, in concert with Zinn, who designed the exuberant neon-colored sets and costumes, and Christopher Gattelli, who staged the dances - the tapping by the four-legged Squidward Q. Tentacles (Gavin Lee) and a school of sardines being a particular joy. And the athletic Slater, meantime, proves to be a totally winning SpongeBob, accomplishing the unusual trick of seeming to exist simultaneously in two dimensions and three. Blessedly, a decision was made not to outfit Slater like the cartoon character; the actor's uncanny physicalizing integrates both a distinct personality and a cartoon aesthetic.
Sara Holdren, Vulture: Is it too much? Nah, no such thing. While I admit that I raised an eyebrow upon learning the show's runtime-two and a half hours seemed like a whole lot of SpongeBob for a single sitting-I left realizing that I had smiled for literally every minute of it. Even at that length, it may be a shameless celebration of the short attention span (there's something new and shiny to look at pretty much every thirty seconds), but its relentless novelty has a sweet earnestness to it. Not to mention real inventiveness: It's like a kid running up to you to show you the Super Powered Extra Awesome Cybernetic Blaster Raygun she just made out of a cardboard tube and some pipe cleaners. (Indeed, Sheldon J. Plankton, SpongeBob's miniscule but nefarious antagonist, cackles over just such a contraption: the Avalanche Maker 3000's construction looks to involve a caulking gun, a camera tripod, and several buckets).
Roma Torre, NY1: Given the cartoon's manic vibe, it seemed impossible to me that "SpongeBob" would fly - or make that swim - on the stage. How to translate the wacky animated creatures into live bodies was an obviously daunting task, not to mention capturing the rather subversive humor that children find so appealing. Well, hats off to director Tina Landau and her gifted company for being able to ride the wave so entertainingly. Enhanced by pitch-perfect sound effects, they managed to replicate the loony shenanigans of the Bikini Bottom dwellers, all the while making it somewhat palatable for adult tastes.
Barbara Schuler, Newsday: Ethan Slater, in his Broadway debut, perfectly captures SpongeBob's enthusiastic approach to life from the moment he's discovered curled up inside the pineapple he calls home. Slater, who's been with this project for nearly five years through workshops and the Chicago tryouts, has the signature nasal voice down pat and he moves like a latter-day Ray Bolger, though with considerably more athleticism.