Review: 4 Reasons SPONGEBOB THE MUSICAL at First Stage Will Float Your Family's Boat

An Eye-Popping, Laugh-Aloud, Cartoonish Romp Under the Sea

By: Mar. 10, 2023
Review: 4 Reasons SPONGEBOB THE MUSICAL at First Stage Will Float Your Family's Boat
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Who lives in a pineapple under the sea? SpongeBob SquarePants! By now most parents are aware of this happy-go-lucky talking sponge of Nickelodeon cartoon fame. The kids, of course, know him too. But did you know they made a SpongeBob musical? Co-conceived by Tina Landau and Kyle Jarrow, the show made its Broadway debut in 2017 and features music by a variety of iconic artists from David Bowie to Cyndi Lauper to John Legend.

Adapted from the Broadway hit, First Stage is bringing The SpongeBob Musical for Young Audiences to Milwaukee through April 2nd. Directed by Tommy Novak with music direction by Paul Helm, the musical has a runtime of 75 minutes plus a brief intermission and is suggested for families with kids ages 6+. In short: SpongeBob is an eye-popping, laugh-aloud, cartoonish romp under the sea -- a can't-miss for kids and parents alike.

Here are 4 reasons to drop on the deck and flop on over to First Stage:

(1) Your kids (probably) already know and love SpongeBob

SpongeBob was the one show at First Stage this season that my niece and nephews asked about repeatedly. They were beyond stoked to go. We stopped for our usual macaroni and cheese pizza beforehand, and thanks to everyone's prior knowledge of SpongeBob, we were able to have a fun chat about the TV show (all-time favorite episodes), the characters (Patrick is officially the funniest), and what to expect from the staged musical (lots of using our imagination).

When we got to the theater, my niece wasted no time pointing out everything she noticed within the set. From SpongeBob's pineapple house to the map of Bikini Bottom on the floor to the inventive use of pool noodles. Her excitement was mirrored in every kid seated around us, which brought buzzy energy to the space even before the curtain rose.

(2) The bubbly young performers impress

There are two casts for First Stage's SpongeBob: the Sponge cast and the Starfish cast. I had the pleasure of seeing the Starfish cast, with the substitution of Gracie Halverson as SpongeBob. Halverson kills it, bringing loads of peppy positivity, a great voice, and commanding main character energy to the stage. She and Zachary Church as starfish Patrick make for a funny and endearing pair of besties, particularly in the toe-tapper "BFF."

Naima Gaines nails it as land mammal and inventor extraordinaire, Sandy Cheeks. From a Texas accent to rattling off complicated scientific notions to strong vocals, Gaines delivers. The last named role in the Starfish cast of young performers is Lainey Techtmann, who shines in the small-ish but mighty role of newscaster Perch Perkins. A six-person ensemble rounds out the young cast, lending strong and spunky support.

(3) The adult performers are mighty amazing

First Stage snagged some top-notch talent for the adult performers in the SpongeBob cast. This is a group of triple threats: singing, dancing, and funny bone tickling. Doug Clemens gives us a mix of whiny womp-womp and sparkling razzle dazzle as the four-legged Squidward. In his big showstopper, "I'm Not a Loser," Clemons shows off his tap-dancing chops alongside a chorus of hot pink sea anemones.

Then there's Jesse Bhamrah and Bree Beelow as the scheming Plankton and his Computer Wife Karen. The two are pitch perfect as these campy, diabolical villains, winning loads of laughs. Zach Thomas Woods makes for a spot-on Mr. Krabs. Lachrisa Grandberry delights as Mrs. Mayor, serving up charm and a dash of political humor just for the parents. Raven Dockery brings cartoon favorite Mrs. Puff to life.

(4) The set, costumes, and props are just too fun!

The first thing you notice when you enter the theater is how scenic designer Kristin Ellert has used ample imagination to capture the town of Bikini Bottom. Sliced-up pool noodles create underwater foliage. Neon-orange ropes make an outline of the volcanic Mount Humongous. Lighting by Jason Fassl gives everything a sunny, under-the-sea wash.

Costume designer Teresa Ham also knocked it out of the park. Each character is an imaginative interpretation of their cartoon counterpart, for example: Patrick with his pink and lime green pinhead propeller hat. While some kids might question why SpongBob doesn't look more boxy, this less-literal take is way more engaging.

At times, little puppets of the miniscule Plankton, furry Sandy, and rectangular Sponge take the stage, showing us the actual size and shape of these critters. Light-up jellyfish made from clear plastic umbrellas prove particularly impressive in ensemble choreography by Katelin Zelon. And be sure to watch the man in the top-right of the scene; the music and sound guy sits here, responsible for every comical whiz, ding, and chirruping dolphin.

Catch all the colorful action of SpongeBob at First Stage, weekends through April 2nd.

Photo Credit:
Paul Ruffolo


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