OREM — There was nobody more skeptical than I was when I first heard of the plans for a Broadway musical of the hit Nickelodeon TV show Spongebob Squarepants. I had been a marginal fan of the show and had enjoyed most of the movies but it didn’t seem like something that could be translated to the Great White Way. However, when it premiered on Broadway in 2017 and received 12 Tony Award nominations, my curiosity was peaked. Now the Scera Shell Outdoor Theatre is putting on the bubbly The Spongebob Musical from July 1-16, and it is overall a fun time for the whole family.
Before going to see Spongebob some will probably want to know if they need to have seen the TV show or movies. I would say it helps to at least know something about the characters but it’s not essential (the plot is fairly simple). Because they don’t have character costumes (it’s more inspired by looks), it’s nice to have some understanding of who the residents of Bikini Bottom are going into it. For example, when they make jokes about Sheldon being a plankton, it makes more sense when you know the look and design of the character from the TV show, because he doesn’t look anything like a plankton on stage. Fortunately, the Spongebob franchise is so ubiquitous these days that almost everyone at least knows the basic designs of the characters.
Costume designer Deborah Bowman‘s creative approach towards the characters helps to ground the show and keeps it from feeling like an amusement park attraction. It makes the Broadway musical its own thing and gives its own identity separate from the TV show and movies. Scenic designer Shawn Herrera and the entire production team also bring Bikini Bottom to life with bright and bold sets that looked as good as anything I’ve seen on Broadway. I also loved the lighting and projections by lighting designer Elizabeth Griffiths, which gave an oceanic feel to the stage. They also use lots of bubbles to add to the undersea effects.
The cast that director Chase Ramsey has assembled is also strong. The highlight is Luke Logan as Squidward who gets one of the best songs of the evening with, “I’m Not a Loser.” He also does the best of replicating the voice acting performance of Rodger Bumpass from the TV show. Keely Conrad is another stand-out as Pearl with a strong belt soprano on, “Daddy Knows Best” (sung with Mr. Krabs played by Bryson Smellie).
Our lead character, Spongebob, is well portrayed by Mitchell Boberg, but he did not sound like the iconic Tom Kenny vocal performance from the TV show, which is fine just different. Boberg and Hailey Bennett Sundwall as Sandy Cheeks have a nice chemistry and work well together in songs like, “Chop to the Top.” Austin Payne has a lot of fun with their role as Patrick and gets one of the sweetest moments with, “(I Guess I) Miss You.”
Perhaps I had the wrong impression going in to see Spongebob, but I was surprised how little comedy is in the show. I guess in fairness the TV show isn’t a laugh riot, but it will make you chuckle in most of the episodes. This book by Kyle Jarrow, on the other hand, takes itself very seriously with only a few jokes to be found. Shrek: the Musical is the gold standard for this type of animation to the stage production and that is loaded with hilarious jokes. Spongebob, believe it or not, is actually a quite serious apocalyptic, end-of-the-world drama with sad songs like, “Tomorrow Is,” and, “No Control.” The latter features lyrics like, “The science is clear. I’m afraid it’s true. The end’s really here. There’s nothing we can do.” Pretty intense for a musical based on an animated talking sponge.
It’s actually impressive the songs in Spongebob are as cohesive as they are because almost every one has a different writer. The show features lyricists such as Cyndi Lauper, Steven Tyler, Joe Perry, Lady A, They Might Be Giants, and more. One of my favorite set pieces is the interruptions by Patchy the Pirate (who also introduces the TV show). He is played by Samuel Wright and his song, “Poor Pirates,” is a lot of fun and it is written by Sara Bareilles who is one of my favorite contemporary artists (and Broadway composer and lyricist for Waitress). I honestly could have used even more interruptions from Patchy as, like I said, the book sometimes takes itself too seriously for a Spongebob musical.
Despite its unnecessarily dark tone, families should have a good time with Spongebob at the Scera. The message of friendship and community spirit should give parents and kids something to talk about when they leave the theater and songs like, “(Just a) Simple Sponge,” will warm the heart. The production is so vibrant and positive that it won the day over any qualms I have with the book. If you can get out to Orem, it is definitely worth spending an evening under the stars at Bikini Bottom.