SpongeBob SquarePants has been a TV staple for nearly two decades. But now, one of the most iconic and recognizable animated characters of all-time is leaving a town with Great White Sharks (in suits and ties) and heading to the Great White Way… well, sort of.
New musical “SpongeBob SquarePants” begins previews this week on Broadway, with an official opening night set for Dec. 4, following a run last year in Chicago. If you’re expecting SpongeBob, Patrick, Squidward and Sandy to simply be larger than life versions of their TV selves (like you see them at the Universal theme parks), that is not the case.
A bunch of actors are playing these roles, imitating their voices, and wearing wardrobe as if these characters were humans instead of sea creatures. The actor playing SB (Ethan Slater) sports yellow hair, a yellow shirt with a red tie and brown shorts. His face and hands are not painted yellow or covered over. The actor playing Patrick (Danny Skinner) has a pink afro, a couple pink shirts and green shorts. That’s it. At least Squidward (played by Gavin Lee, who was Bert in the original run of “Mary Poppins”) does have some tentacles (albeit, white shoes on them).
“SpongeBob” creator Stephen Hillenburg, Nickelodeon, book writer Kyle Jarrow and director Tina Landau are certainly taking a big risk. The Chicago run was well-received, but how will theater critics and audiences (especially families) react to the SBSP musical? Little kids attending performances may not understand why real people are playing these characters. I wouldn’t be surprised if some young ones shout out loud, “Where’s SpongeBob?” even after Slater has appeared on stage for awhile.
Or – is this SpongeBob musical not intended for kids, but rather those my age and a little older who grew-up with the show, along with the parents of that generation?
One of the other interesting elements of the show is that a number of different, popular artists have contributed new songs – each with their own, unique style. You’ll hear tunes from Cyndi Lauper, the late David Bowie, John Legend, Sara Bareilles, Plain White T’s, T.I., Lady Antebellum, Panic! at the Disco, They Might Be Giants, and Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of “Aerosmith”. Will they all gel with each other – and will they have the feel of being SpongeBob songs: fun, clever, offbeat and memorable?
I’m rooting for the SpongeBob musical to be a big success. Hopefully, the beloved characters and material aren’t over-exaggerated simply so the actors can hit high notes.
For tickets to “SpongeBob SquarePants”, visit spongebobbroadway.com.