Review: THE SPONGEBOB MUSICAL at Arizona Broadway Theatre

The production runs through July 17th

By: Jul. 07, 2022
Review: THE SPONGEBOB MUSICAL at Arizona Broadway Theatre
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Whether a parent, a child of the aughts, or a kid at heart, no question is less elusive than the one that begs an answer to "Who lives in a pineapple under the sea?" SpongeBob SquarePants, the longest-running animated show on Nickelodeon, is the answer for all others who live under a rock. Animator and marine biologist, Steven Hillenburg, wanted to create a show that focused on childlike wonder and exploration. He took his inspiration for the titular character and his sidekick, Patrick the starfish, from the real-life comedian duo Laurel and Hardy as well as Pee Wee Herman, to drive home the themes of innocence, friendship, and unbridled optimism. The cast and crew of this musical embody those ideals and warm the hearts of its audiences at Arizona Broadway Theatre (ABT).

The show introduces us to the characters, their hopes and desires, and the relationships in the fabled land of Bikini Bottom. It's fun and frivolity until a tremor moves through the town and they discover Mount Humongous is on the verge of erupting, which will effectively obliterate everything and everyone unless they escape. The solution is to purchase an escape pod, but no one has the kind of money needed to acquire one, so the plan is to produce a benefit concert to raise the money. SpongeBob believes that there could be another way, but no one listens to him because he is not "management material." SpongeBob leaves to prove them wrong with his friends Sandy and Patrick, but not without some friendship mishaps as well.

This show, while adapted from a kids' television show, is truly an all-ages show with plenty of references to assure that neither age group gets bored. That being said, the first act seemed moderately slower than the second, probably due to the amount of time spent on exposition and explaining character relationships to those unfamiliar with the show (e.g., Mr. Krabs and Pearl). Also, some songs were not up to standard as others, which would make sense given that each song had a different writer. Despite that, it is more often than not a cohesive and enjoyable story filled with silly nostalgic jokes (e.g., one hour later) and poking fun at adult pain points (e.g., governmental procedure).

What the musical lacks in initial substance, it makes up for in synesthesia. The colors and textures created by scenic designer, Douglas Clarke, immerse the viewer as part of the wondrous world of Hillenburg's creation. With the handiwork and detail of costume designer, Lottie Dixon, and the lighting prowess of Brett G. Reese, Bikini Bottom comes alive. Special commendation should be given to the foley designer and artist, Ryan Blihovde and Matt Griesgraber, respectively. The amount of detail that goes into bringing an animated show to life where foley effects are concerned is a daunting task; each step of SpongeBob, the squirts of Squidward, and all the little in-between sounds grounded the show firmly in the tv show's animated audio environment but also showed how engaged Griesgraber had to be for each performance. It is truly one-of-a-kind artistry that takes admirable commitment and connection.

The onstage talent of this young ensemble cast was exceptional with each person present and fully devoted to creating the life of a Bikini Bottom resident. Stephen Casey, the director/choreographer, and Adam Berger are to be applauded for their work with the phenomenal voices/dancers. The prowess packed in the ensemble's three epic dance numbers was jaw-droppingly brilliant - from the Plankton's posse to an awesome assembly of anemones. The supporting cast is just as dazzling. Adam Hainsel as Perch Perkins croons a disturbing ballad as smooth as honey; Lionel Ruland and Kayla Arias, Mr. Krabs and Pearl, give father-daughter angst with great booming voices; even Patchy the Pirate (Ross Coughlin) and fellow pirates open Act II with a rousing sea shanty that makes it hard not to dance along. Even Bruno Streck Rodrigues has a special place in everyone's heart not only as buff Larry the Lobster, but voicing Gary, SpongeBob's pet snail. This has been one of the best ensembles, short of touring shows, that I have seen in The Valley.

Loren Stone, Elliott Scott Smith, and Jazmin Noel Mohring as trio SpongeBob, Patrick Star, and Sandy respectively, are dynamic, kooky, and lovable. Regrettably, in some of their numbers, the instrumentation overpowered them making some of the lyrics and storytelling difficult to understand; however, this is a problem that plagues many theatres and is no reflection on the actors' abilities or execution. Stone's affectation of SpongeBob's voice and joy is spot on, Mohring's sass and intelligence shine in her Sandy, and Smith's goofy oblivion is utter glee for Patrick. Alex Pineiro and Lynzee Foreman, as Sheldon Plankton and Karen the Computer, were the time-honored hammy, blundering villains with a panache of goofy evil that made them almost cuddly - also, they have wicked smooth dance moves. Finally, Tyler Pirrung, as crotchety neighbor Squidward, was the giant sparkly bow on the entire SpongeBob Musical extravaganza. It's impressive to tap with two legs, but when you add on an extra pair and sing the song "I'm Not a Loser" (written by The Kings Of nerd rock, They Might Be Giants), well, there's a kid inside everyone that is singing along with it.

With every detail meant to tickle your nostalgia or slap your funny bone, this show was unexpectedly satisfying. It was silly and sometimes too long, but it harkens back to a time when that wasn't an issue. It plays up that inner child feeling some of us long for and allows us to giggle, in an adult world where sometimes, there's nothing to giggle about. It appears superficially to be a kid's show, but it deals with conflicts and heavy subjects with simplicity and optimism to try to teach that everything can be worked out if we all work together. It assaults your senses with vibrancy and purity and turns an end-of-the-world scenario into a beautiful stream of bubbles.

As if to speak to that, ABT is presenting two very special events.

The cast from The SpongeBob Musical will be performing selected numbers from the show set up for children on the autistic spectrum and their families and friends to experience live theatre. The musical numbers will be adjusted to cater to the sensory sensitivities of the audience. To learn more about the show July 7, at 1:00 p.m., click here.

If you feel inspired to move like Squidward, ABT is offering a FREE basics in tap class with Tyler Pirrung on July 11th from 7-8:30 p.m. More information can be found on the website here.

If none of those float your boat, ABT is also offering 50% discounts for first responders and educators using the code on their site as well! Turn on the joy and join the residents of Bikini Bottom until July 17th.