BWW Review: THE SPONGEBOB MUSICAL Brings Spectacular Visuals, Startling Energy to Nashville's TPAC
But Just Imagine if the Show Had a Better Book...
Who lives in a pineapple under the sea? Spongebob Squarepants, of course - and now, the ambitious but kind, optimistic yet somehow down-to-earth "simple sponge" is taking his show on the road in a colorful, fun-filled, peripatetic and eye-poppingly surreal musical fresh off Broadway: The Spongebob Musical. You don't have to be a longtime fan of the animated and timeless, eponymously titled Nickelodean series, but clearly it helps to have at least a passing knowledge of the Spongebob oeuvre to keep all the players straight in an apocalyptic, yet thoroughly entertaining, tale of imminent danger for all the Bikini Bottom inhabitants fans have come to love over the years.
Onstage through Sunday at Tennessee Performing Arts Center's Andrew Jackson Hall, The Spongebob Musical is a joyful musical confection, even if the story being told seems a retread of every apocalyptic tale you've ever witnessed.
In a cast led by Lorenzo Pugliese, as the title multicellular organism - with Beau Bradshaw as his best pal Patrick Star and Cody Cooley as a show-stealing Squidward - there's a sense of enthusiasm that runs throughout, ensuring that audiences will be drawn into the onstage mayhem and mischief even if one is a wayward parent urged to buy tickets by a child who's grown up watching the adventures of Spongebob and company, or if you're a theater aficionado quite uncertain about what you're going to experience in just over two hours of fun and frivolity.
Set to a score provided by some of popular music's best-known personalities and acts, including Cyndi Lauper, Yolanda Adams, Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith, Sara Bareilles, The Flaming Lips, Lady Antebellum, Panic! At The Disco, They Might Be Giants, David Bowie and Brian Eno - Whew! Even in Music City, we're impressed by that lineup - with a musical production conceived and directed by Tina Landau and featuring the choreography of Christopher Gattelli, The Spongebob Musical is a visual spectacle, performed by talented individuals and brought so vividly to life that even if Act One seems to drag a bit, you'll be all in during the second stanza and likely to leap to your feet for six and one-half minutes of uninterrupted applause following Squidward's rousing tap number (the show's most obvious musical theatre tribute in a show filled with theatrical references) "I'm Not a Loser."
Adding to the show's notable theater pedigree: music is by Pulitzer Prize-winning, Tony Award winner and Drama Desk Award nominee Tom Kitt, of next to normal, American Idiot and Everyday Rapture fame. The production is fairly brimming with showbiz/Broadway bona fides, enough to attract the attention of any theaterati worth their salt.
Presented on tour by a non-Equity cast, The Spongebob Musical is nonetheless watchable, even if you can't help but wonder with all the talented involved just how successful the show would be if they had a good story with which to work. Unfortunately, Kyle Jarrow's tale of the approaching apocalypse - a predicted volcanic eruption threatens to annihilate everyone and everything in Bikini Bottom unless Spongebob, Sandy Cheeks (the Texas-born land mammal, aka squirrel) and Patrick (who somehow becomes something of a messiah in the run-up to the aquatic Armageddon) can save the day. It's an interesting premise, sure, but seems overdone even if a bit subversive (Spongebob and company are wonderfully, winningly progressive in their undersea habitat that is refreshingly free of mermaids longing to walk on-land).
David Zinn's scenic and costume design are spectacularly colorful and clever, and your eyes never wander from the spectacle playing out onstage, thanks to Landau's splendid pacing and astounding eye for detail and innovation. Kevin Adams lights the proceedings with a panoply of color that defies description and Peter Nigrini's projections create a world heretofore glimpsed onstage.
Pugliese is perfectly cast as the lovable Spongebob, investing so much energy and verve in his performance that you can't help but wonder how he does it eight shows a week. Likewise, Bradshaw is wonderfully self-absorbed as Patrick (prompting the query, how can a starfish be more self-absorbed than a simple sponge, but I digress) and Cooley proves his mettle as a song-and-dance man as the acerbic Squidward. Daria Pilar Redus is swell as Sandy Cheeks and Tristan McIntyre is perfectly unctuous and manipulative (spiteful, conniving and underhanded) as Sheldon Plankton (Caitlin Ort is delightful as Karen the Computer). Zach Kononov is terrific as the overbearing Eugene Krabs (in fact, his rivalry with Sheldon fuels much of the play's action) and Meami Maszewski is ideally cast as his diffident daughter Pearl.
The Spongebob Musical. Based on the series by Stephen Hillenburg. Book by Kyle Jarrow. Music by Tom Kitt. Conceived and directed by Tina Landau. Choreography by Christoper Gatelli. Presetned by NETworks Productions as part of the Broadway at TPAC Series. Andrew Jackson Hall, Nashville. Through November 10. For details, go to www.tpac.org. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes (with one 15-minute intermission).