|SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS: THE BROADWAY MUSICAL|
Of all the merchandise currently sold inside the Palace Theatre – magnets, t-shirts, a charming pineapple-shaped tree ornament – the most valuable thing attendees of “SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical” might need is missing: a neck brace. Because, trust me, this exuberant, expensive and sometimes enervating spectacle -- directed with utter confidence by Tina Landau and featuring typically thrilling choreography by Tony winner Christopher Gattelli -- is likely to give you whiplash, literally and musically (or at least metaphorically).
Indeed, it’s hard to know where to look from the moment you enter the auditorium. David Zinn’s elaborate decorations, made even brighter by Kevin Adams’ supernal lighting, extend from the back of the house to the sides (the two Rube Goldberg-like contraptions that flank the stage are truly wondrous to behold) and beyond. Moreover, when the full set – showing us SpongeBob’s fictional home, Bikini Bottom -- is revealed, your eyes will possibly burst. (And if you have kids, they may squeal with excitement!)
The multi-talented Zinn is also responsible for the very colorful costumes, many of which provide the shorthand for our leading players: the ever-optimistic SpongeBob (a brilliant Broadway debut from Ethan Slater); his slothful starfish BFF Patrick (an engaging Danny Skinner); SpongeBob’s crusty, money-hungry boss Eugene Krebs (an effective Brian Ray Norris); the bitter, blue-haired Squidwad Q. Tentacles (a sensational Gavin Lee); and Sandy Cheeks (the wonderful Lilli Cooper) a smart squirrel with a nose for science.
Fans of the Nickelodeon series on which the show is based will know much more about these characters than I do, and so may also be in a better position to judge both how they’ve been portrayed, as well as athe effectiveness of Kyle Jarrow’s book, which tries very hard to keep the interest of the many tykes in the audience as well as the adults over the show’s somewhat bloated two-and-half hours.
However, I would say he mostly succeeds. The basic plot, which revolves around the possible destruction of Bikini Bottom by an about-to-erupt volcano, remains remarkably child-friendly despite its overtones of gloom and doom. In fact, a subplot about hypnotizing the town and possibly killing our trio of heroes by villains Sheldon Plankton (a truly game Wesley Taylor) and Karen the Computer (Stephanie Hsu) feels entirely superfluous. Meanwhile, Jarrow intermittently delights older folks with fun “in jokes” about musical theater (how many times has he seen “Gypsy”?) and adding in some sharp satire about the current state of the government.
The diverse score also tries to please all, with the catchy opening number “Bikini Bottom Day,” the poppy “Hero Is My Middle Name” and the sweet “(I Guess I) Miss You” being the most successful entries. But I’m not sure the creators’ idea to have over a dozen notable songwriters (including Sara Bareilles, David Bowie, Cyndi Lauper and Steven Tyler and Joe Perry) contribute to the score was a gamble that fully paid off. There are a few too many songs for the show’s own good, and far too many musicals styles are on display here – including hard rock, gospel, country. I often felt trapped inside some strange jukebox.
Given the melodic abundance, couldn’t someone have written a solo for 18-year-old powerhouse Jai’ Len Christine Li Josey (as Eugene’s rebellious, good-hearted daughter Pearl), who is one of the best vocalists on the stage? At least, the fabulous Lee gets to sing-and-dance his heart out in act two during “I’m Not a Loser” (by the great They Might Be Giants), which proves to be the musical’s true showstopper!
Bottom line: with the dearth of new children’s shows on Broadway (“Frozen” and “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” don’t open until this spring) and its loyal TV following, “Spongebob SquarePants” is likely to be a box office winner -- even if there’s too much for the average seven-year-old (or 70-year-old) to fully absorb!
By Brian Scott Lipton
Visit the Site
Ethan Slater, Lilli Cooper, Gavin Lee, Brian Ray Norris, Danny Skinner, Wesley Taylor
Preview Open/ Preview Close Dates
Preview Opening 11/6/2017
1564 Broadway (at 47th Street)
New York, NY 10036