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Review: THE SPONGEBOB MUSICAL at Toby's Dinner Theater

Soak Up Summertime Family Fun at Toby's through July 31, 2022

Review: THE SPONGEBOB MUSICAL at Toby's Dinner Theater

What do Lady Antebellum, They Might Be Giants, Panic! At the Disco, Cyndi Lauper, T. I, Jonathan Coulton, Sara Bareilles, Plain White T's, Yolanda Adams, John Legend and The Flaming Lips have in common?

If you're stumped, here's an easier one: Who lives in a pineapple under the sea?

Ding-ding! Correct! SpongeBob Squarepants is the answer to both of those questions!

If you didn't have cable, didn't watch Nickelodeon, didn't follow SpongeBob Squarepants, didn't see the 2004 or 2015 SpongeBob movies and have no idea why SpongeBob ought to be a Broadway musical, guess what? Neither did I.

Nickelodeon, pushed by premier production co-director Tina Landau, upon whose original concept the production is based, plowed ahead with plans for something big and different, faithful to the popular series. The result is a multi-artist musical, with dialogue by Kyle Jarrow and additional music by Tom Kitt. Knowing nothing other than SpongeBob's usual lodging and that his best friend is a starfish named Patrick, I prepare for THE SPONGEBOB MUSICAL to be cute-ish, but possibly insubstantial.

I got cute, and I got cartoony. Props to director Mark Minnick and choreographer David Singleton for well done animation-trope exaggerated group movement moments. You can't, however, classify themes like xenophobia, climate change, social divide and scapegoating as insubstantial. This show, while cartoon-colorful, action packed and super silly, is full of contemporary concerns. It's also bursting with extremely catchy songs.

Songs include a few pre-existing numbers- "No Control," by David Bowie and Brian Eno has been reworked with new lyrics by Jonathan Coulton; I'm curious how the rights to that were obtained, but when a show is ten years and eighteen million dollars in the making, evidently much is possible, however unlikely. "Best Day Ever" from the end credits of the first movie appears, and, naturally, the show's theme song.

If you don't already know the characters, it's fine. Everything is made perfectly clear even for those stepping into Bikini Bottom for the first time. The town is peopled with familiar character archetypes, enormously overdone. In the title role of SpongeBob, Kyle Dalsimer makes his glorious pratfall-laden comic debut at Toby's with dare I say Neil Patrick Harris -esque charm and enthusiasm. Veteran Toby's performer and Helen Hayes award-winner DeCarlo Raspberry delivers punchy physicality and huge vocals to create a ginormous goofy BFF Patrick. Their two duets, "BFF" and "(I Guess I) Miss You" are remarkably wonderful. Other veterans include Janine Sunday, who brings swagger and gumption to Sandy Cheeks, Justin Calhoun, cheesily inflammatory as TV Newscaster Perch Perkins and Joey Ellighaus, slithery and mustache-twirlingly malevolent as Sheldon Plankton. His feature number, "When The Going Gets Tough," is a showcase of speed and flexibility.

Newcomers Jordan Stocksdale and Lydia Gifford, who separately debuted at Toby's as King Arthur (SPAMALOT!) and Adrian (ROCKY), respectively, are back for second shows: Stocksdale as Patchy the Pirate and Gifford in the Ensemble. Brand new to Toby's are Jordyn Taylor as Pearl Krabs and Trenton Beavers in the Ensemble. Jordyn has excellent physical skills and a fantastic voice. Her duet with Jeffrey Shankle, "Daddy Knows Best," highlights her talent with brilliantly executed counterpoint vocals. I anticipate her participation in future productions.

Alongside Jeffrey Shankle, scuttley and avaricious as Mr. Krabs, Toby's regulars include Amanda Kaplan, maliciously snarky as Karen the Computer, Darren McDonnell, dourly humorous as Squidward, Santina Maiolatesi, attractively bombastic as the Mayor, Crystal Freeman, overwrought though underused as Mrs. Puff, and David James, comically hapless and 100% hillbilly as Old Man Jenkins. These performers continually delight me.

Ensemble characters in the form of Sardines appear as a key plot point. Not everyone enjoys Sardines, but THESE Sardines are fantastic and hilarious. Completing the Ensemble and shining as various undersea creatures or phenomena are Pep Targete, often appearing as bubbles, Ariel Messeca, Alexis Krey, Quadray Brown and Brandon Bedore, possibly as a blue whale in blue bouffant wig and tutu.

Inventive costuming takes a modified approach to oceanic personification. It often makes no difference to plot or performance which creature the character was assigned by marine educator Stephen Hillenburg, creator of SpongeBob. Costume Designer Flo Arnold offers highly anthropomorphized and figurative representations of Bikini Bottom residents. The characters of Mayor, Mrs. Puff, Old Man Jenkins and TV newscaster Perch Perkins read without species specificity. Even though he's attired in a classic semi-military villainous suit (complete with eyepatch), I know Sheldon Plankton is a single-celled organism only because the script says so, and Sandy Cheeks tells us she's a squirrel. I wonder why Sandy doesn't drown underwater, but she's apparently in an implied diving helmet. Pearl Krabs remarks on being a whale, but even in platform shoes, she looks like a cheerleader. Her wig, however, fabulously suggests a spouting blowhole; impressed nod to Wig and Hair Designer Jayson Kueberth.

Rather than convince us visually of Pearl's largeness, sound cues step in. A Foley, the only observable band member, makes booming sound effects when Pearl enters a room. Yes! Cartoon sound effects adorn THE SPONGEBOB MUSICAL, performed by a designated Foley, who's visible from most seats in the Toby's theater and acknowledged as part of the cast from the show's beginning. Foley provides the Pow and Smack, the Whee and Whoa we expect from cartoons, which really sells the whole product, so kudos for Sound Designers John Pantazis and Nathan Scavilla. Tonight, the part of Foley is ably handled by Catina McLagan, who is graced with a personal introduction from frequent Toby's host Robert John Biederman. Contemporary rock, pop and rap numbers suggest that guitar and bass are important to the show's sound, and are dynamically delivered in the hands of Rick Peralta and Michael Kellan, particularly in "Bikini Bottom Boogie." Music Director Ross Scott Rawlings, operating Keyboard I, conducts.

The undersea atmosphere of the theater begins in the lobby, which scenic and properties designer Shane Lowry (also choicely cast as buff, body-building Larry the Lobster in a red puffer jacket) deliberately created from donated items that often wind up in landfills or our oceans. Please notice the jellyfish. They are masterworks of cleverness. The beach vibe is enhanced by a seaside vacation dinnertime playlist.

Despite not being a previous SpongeBob fan, I enthusiastically recommend this show. It has everything required for a family theater outing: bright colors, important themes, a message of friendship, catchy tunes and plenty of slapstick physical comedy. It holds together with integrity to itself, which not every kid-pleaser wannabe (cough- Seussical -cough) does, models objectionable and aspirational behaviors and their consequences, upholds science, supports pluck and positivity, upends romantic subplot elements, and causes kiddies to jump and dance in the aisles, yes, for real. It's potentially the most Gen Z thing I've ever seen, impressive and worth a look, just for that.

Multi-tiered seating around the floor that's both stage and buffet area assures every seat a good view. The buffet offers variety to please nearly everyone, including a sturdy salad bar, shrimp cocktail, carved meats and excellent side dishes. Gary's Gumbo, served with white rice, is chicken and sausage in a nicely seasoned sauce. In case of allergen concerns, peruse the menu beforehand: Tonight's theme drink, the Bikini Bottom, is a colada- type drink with rum. I like it- though at the outer limit of my sweetness tolerance, it's adorned with a gummy sea creature, and I adore gummy candy.

Have your best day ever! Reach the beach in Columbia, Maryland, without hours of traffic, for a fantastical, fulfilling, hummable, dance-happy show that has the perfect recipe of evil gloating, danger, triumph, social commentary, lovable characters and perfect performances, plus a surprising hoof number. THE SPONGEBOB MUSICAL satisfies in all regards, and is an important reminder that life smells weird.

See THE SPONGEBOB MUSICAL through July 31, 2022. Toby's Dinner Theatre is in Columbia, Maryland, easily accessed from 29 Southbound, with plenty of free parking all around the building.

Toby's Dinner Theatre of Columbia

5900 Symphony Woods Road

Columbia, MD 21044

For tickets, phone the box office at 410-730-8311, 301-596-6161 or 1-800-88-TOBYS 10 AM - 9 PM. Doors open at 6 PM Tuesday through Saturday evenings, with dinner from 6:30-7:20 for an 8 PM showtime. Wednesday and Sunday Matinees, the buffet is 10:30-11:50 AM for a 12:30 PM show. Sunday evening supper is at 5:30 PM, with a 7 PM showtime. NEW! In July, Saturday Matinees, with dinner menu, have been added on the 16th, 23rd and 30th at 10:30 AM. The show runs about one and a half hours, including a 20 minute intermission.

Photo: (L to R) Kyle Dalsimer, Janine Sunday, DeCarlo Raspberry performing "Hero Is My Middle Name" as SpongeBob, Sandy and Patrick

Photo Credit: Jeri Tidwell Photography

From This Author - Cybele Pomeroy

Review: THE SPONGEBOB MUSICAL at Toby's Dinner Theater
June 28, 2022

What did our critic think?If you don't have cable, watch SpongeBob Squarepants nor any clue why SpongeBob should be a Broadway musical, no worries. Everything is made clear for those entering Bikini Bottom for the first time. It's packed with family theater elements: bright colors, important themes, messages of friendship, catchy tunes and slapstick comedy. Best day ever!

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