BWW Review: THE SPONGEBOB MUSICAL Dives Into the Best Kind of Nautical Nonsense at Bass Performance Hall
Arrrrrrrrgh you ready, DFW?! Everyone's favorite invertebrate has surfed into the metroplex in the form of THE SPONGEBOB MUSICAL, bringing a tidal wave of imagination and talent in its wake. The Broadway hit runs through February 23 at Fort Worth's Bass Performance Hall, and potential audience members would be smart to grab their tickets before they disappear like a scared school of sardines.
THE SPONGEBOB MUSICAL finds its hero's hometown of Bikini Bottom facing certain destruction in the form of Mount Humongous, an underwater volcano about to spew lava across the ocean floor. While the town slowly begins to break down under the pressure, SpongeBob teams up with his friends Patrick Star and Sandy Cheeks (the aquatic squirrel) to make the treacherous climb to the top of the mountain and save the day. Unique to this musical is its collection of musical numbers, each of which has been composed by some of the most popular musical talents of generations past and present, including steve Tyler, Cyndi Lauper, David Bowie, John Legend, Panic! At the Disco, and many more. While each song is clearly reminiscent of their composer's own style, orchestrater Tom Kitt has arranged the score in such a way that still manages to feel largely cohesive.
Granted, SpongeBob, his friends, and their exploits are likely only familiar to anyone who went through childhood over the original television show's run of twenty-plus years. I saw more than a few older patrons shaking their heads in frustrated confusion at the logic of the universe, such as how a crab can have a whale for a daughter or how a squirrel without any noticeable oxygen supply can survive for longer than a few minutes underwater. But if one can put aside any reservations and embrace the imaginative qualities of the world, audiences of all ages will find themselves delighted by the show's awesome creativity and the cast's Broadway-caliber performance abilities.
As the titular hero of the musical, Lorenzo Pugliese has some big square pants to fill, yet he manages to completely embody the role while still adding his own idiosyncratic elements of glee and whimsy. Anyone familiar with the cartoon knows that SpongeBob frequently contorts his body in inhuman (in-sponge-like?) ways, but Pugliese tackles these feats with a smile on his face and an energy unmatched by even the most hyper of children. He sprints and slides and jumps around the stage without even the hint of exhaustion, a fact made even more impressive when one considers his strong, octave-defying voice. Pugliese knows how to modulate his sounds, mimicking SpongeBob's trademark nasally sound in between belting his way through numbers such as "(Just a) Simple Sponge" or scaling back for more relaxed songs such as "BFF." Simply put, his performance alone is worth the ticket.
But Pugliese is not the only impressive triple-threat onstage. The cast consists of nearly twenty other performers who display similar physical and musical feats; looking through the program, it seems tough to believe that - for many of these actors - this is their first national tour.
As SpongeBob's friends Patrick and Sandy, Beau Bradshaw and Daria Pilar Redus eagerly support their porous pal but also manage to shine as bright as possible in their share of the spotlight. Bradshaw is appropriately dopey yet equally lovable as Patrick, perhaps because he invests real emotion into the character so that he doesn't just become a simple stock fool. Additionally, his gruff character voice gives way to a soaring a tenor in his raucous gospel number "Super Sea Star Savior," showcasing an adeptness at balancing sincere performance with technical skill. Redus's Sandy confidently commands attention, whether she's rattling off her latest plans about how to save the city or proudly singing to the rafters in "Hero Is My Middle Name." Interestingly, Sandy also plays a fairly topical role in the show; when the townsfolk begin to fear for their lives, they blame Sandy for all of their troubles since she's the only one "foreign" to Bikini Bottom. Redus conveys her character's status as a scapegoat without ever wallowing too long in pity. Even in the face of fear, this actress stands powerfully tall.
Other standout performances include Cody Cooley as Squidward Q. Tentacles, who impressively manages to tap dance through an entire number on four legs (well, tentacles); Tristan McIntyre as the villainous Plankton, ridiculously menacing when he isn't fluidly moving his body through an intensive hip-hop routine; Caitlin Ort as Plankton's wife Karen the Computer, playing the straight man to McIntyre with a scathingly dry wit; and Méami Maszewski as Pearl, whose rock 'n roll riffs shake the auditorium more than any whale song ever could. Of course, it should go without saying that the remaining cast members hold their own as well; the musical demands it.
Every aspect of the show's design elements demand that the audience engage all of their imaginative faculties since characters and locations are often more loosely suggested than they are realistically realized. To give some examples, Sandy's oxygen helmet takes the form of an afro courtesy of Charles G. LaPointe's hair and wig design, Mr. Krabs's enormous claws become modified boxing gloves with the help of David Zinn's costume design, and a crumbling mountain rises above the characters as trolleys stacked with cardboard boxes, once again due to the creative brilliance of Zinn. Much of the fun of watching THE SPONGEBOB MUSICAL is seeing how these familiar elements of our childhood are brought to life in exciting and unexpected ways.
Is this musical the most profoundly moving show you're likely to see this year? No. The script is big on laughs and stuffed with fluff, often moving at a swift pace. Is it the most musically nuanced piece you'll hear? Also probably not; the songs-though cute and catchy-often feel like they're competing with one another to be the 11 o'clock number, which blunts the effects of all of them.
But THE SPONGEBOB MUSICAL is the most fun you're likely to have with friends both old and new in a playground of a playing area that will bring out the joy in your kids and the kid in you. Get ready for the "Best Day Ever."