BWW Review: THE SPONGEBOB MUSICAL: A Sunny Outlook Under the Sea
The SpongeBob Musical
Based on the Series by Stephen Hillenburg, Book by Kyle Jarrow; Original Songs by Yolanda Adams, Steven Tyler & Joe Perry of Aerosmith, Sara Bareilles, Jonathan Coulton, Alex Ebert of Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, The Flaming Lips, Lady Antebellum, Cyndi Lauper & Rob Hyman, John Legend, Panic! At the Disco, Plain White T's, They Might Be Giants, T.I., Domani & Lil' C, and Songs by David Bowie & Brian Eno, Tom Kenny & Andy Paley; Additional Lyrics by Jonathan Coulton and Music by Tom Kitt; Musical Production Conceived and Directed by Tina Landau; Choreography by Christopher Gatelli; Music Supervision, Julie McBride & Timothy Hanson; Scenic & Costume Design, David Zinn; Lighting Design, Kevin Adams; Projection Design, Peter Nigrini; Sound Design, Walter Trarbach; Music Director, Patrick Hoagland; Production Stage Manager, Nick L. Voight
CAST: Lorenzo Pugliese, Beau Bradshaw, Cody Cooley, Zach Kononov, Tristan McIntyre, Daria Pilar Redus, Joshua Bess, Morgan Blanchard, John Cardenas, Natalie L. Chapman, Richie Dupkin, Teddy Gales, Stephen C. Kallas, Méami Maszewski, Stefan Miller, mary nickson, Dorian O'Brien, Caitlin Ort, Elle-May Patterson, Helen Regula, Sydney Simone, Ayana Strutz, Miles Davis Tillman, Rico Velazquez
Performances through October 27 at Boch Center, Wang Theatre, 270 Tremont Street, Boston, MA; Box Office 800-982-2787 or www.bochcenter.org
The National (non-equity) Tour of The SpongeBob Musical settled in at the Boch Center's Wang Theatre this week and brought out families and children raised on the beloved Nickelodeon series. Joining a long list of animated shows adapted into Broadway musicals, this one is set apart by the clever collaboration with a wide variety of popular artists who composed individual songs, seamlessly curated, orchestrated, and arranged by Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winner Tom Kitt (of Next to Normal). Based on the television series by Stephen Hillenburg, it was conceived and directed by Tina Landau and features a book by Kyle Jarrow, but the eclectic score is the crème de la crème of The SpongeBob Musical.
Lorenzo Pugliese is an energetic and engaging SpongeBob SquarePants and heads up a cast of two dozen triple threats. The other principal players are: Bob's best friend Patrick Star (Beau Bradshaw, heartwarming); Sandy Cheeks (Daria Pilar Redus, impressive), a land mammal who faces prejudice until she becomes a hero; Squidward Q. Tentacles (Cody Cooley); Bob's boss Eugene Krabs (Zach Kononov), a money-hungry restaurant owner; and the villainous Sheldon Plankton (Tristan McIntyre). Other distinct personalities in the community of Bikini Bottom include Eugene's daughter Pearl (Méami Maszewski, powerhouse), a wannabe rocker; Sheldon's "love interest," Karen the Computer (Caitlin Ort); the Mayor (Helen Regula) who is literally in over her head; and poor, put-upon Patchy the Pirate (Morgan Blanchard).
The tour has the benefit of the original Broadway designers, most of whom were nominated for 2018 Tony Awards (the show had 12 nominations in all, winning only one for scenic design). David Zinn does double duty as scenic and costume designer, using every color of the rainbow and then some. He works hand in hand (fin in fin?) with projection designer Peter Nigrini and lighting designer Kevin Adams to create a psychedelic undersea world, and sound designer Walter Trarbach provides thunderous effects to make a series of quakes sufficiently scary. Everyone is mic'd, so there's no problem hearing the voices over music director Patrick Hoagland's 10-piece orchestra. Unfortunately, many of the songs require the singers to belt and often the loudness detracts from clever lyrics and nice tunes. It is a welcome relief from the cranked-up volume when a rare ballad pops up in the song list.
Tony-winning choreographer Christopher Gattelli (Newsies) stages the dance numbers to synchronize with the style of song, the scenic and costume design, and the specific kinds of aquatic beings involved. However, the pinnacle of his contributions is a dynamic tap dance performed by four-legged Squidward and a chorus line of fuchsia sea anemones. Cooley brings the house down, channeling Tommy Tune (if he had an extra set of gams), in "I'm Not a Loser" by They Might Be Giants. Gatelli and Landau devise constant movement on stage, with cast members pressed into duty to rearrange set pieces, with the most intricate action involving stacks of cartons on dollies and a virtual jungle gym made up of ladders to suggest the treacherous climb up Mount Humongous.
While I found the book to be convoluted, a few worthy themes stand out. It can be surmised that Bikini Bottom's existence is threatened by climate change and the response of the government is sorely lacking, leaving room for a villain to rush in to fill the leadership void. When the citizens are looking for someone to blame, the mob mentality focuses on the outsider, the one land mammal in their midst. However, through it all, SpongeBob maintains an incredibly sunny outlook and does his best to infect everyone with his positive, can-do spirit. He is a loyal friend who is an example of persistence paying off, and demonstrates that one person can change the world. Ultimately, The SpongeBob Musical leaves you with a belief in the power of positive thinking and reinforces the idea that it may be in our own hands to make it the best day ever.
Photo credit: Jeremy Daniel (Lorenzo Pugliese and the Company)