Just Another Bikini Bottom Day at ‘Spongebob Squarepants’ at Palace Theater – Review

By Blaise Buckley on 11 January 2018
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When I think of Spongebob Squarepants, the Nickelodeon cartoon dish sponge I grew up watching, the last thing that comes to mind is “this would make a great Broadway musical.” Spongebob Squarepants, a popular cartoon character since 1999, lives in a pineapple under the sea next to his best friend, a starfish named Patrick, and both are friends with a scientist/karate squirrel in a spacesuit. Spongebob has a boss who’s a crab with a daughter who’s a whale, and a neighbor named Squidward, a clarinet playing squid.

It’s important to note that the producers opted to not make Spongebob Squarepants and his pals look anything like their cartoon originals. There are no elaborate costumes, no prosthetics, and little makeup. Spongebob Squarepants wears colorful plaid trousers with suspenders, a yellow checkered shirt, and a red tie, yet they succeed in making theatergoers believe that they are the original characters they came to love.

That’s not to say that the costumes and set by David Zinn aren’t impressive. They are while retaining a kind of minimalist effect at the same time. Squidward (Gavin Lee in his third Broadway role) is brilliant as is his four-legged costume when he performs a four-footed tap dance accompanied by a kick-line of sequined sea anemones.

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Before even seeing the show, I heard such raves from people of all ages, many who are theatre professionals with high standards, so I walked into the Palace Theater with high expectations and the show mostly lived up to these. From the moment the curtain rises and one of the most imaginative Broadway sets expands, I had the biggest grin on my face that continued on and off throughout the show.

In addition to Lee, Wesley Taylor starring as the evil Plankton, and Lilli Cooper as Sandy the Squirrel are each making their third appearance on Broadway, performing in such high profile shows as “Rock of Ages” and “Spring Awakening,” respectively. Ethan Slater in the title role of Spongebob Squarepants, Danny Skinner as Patrick and Brian Ray Norris as Mr. Eugene Krabs are all making their Broadway debuts and appear to have been born to play these parts one would be hard pressed to tell that the newcomers in the show had any less experience than those with a longer list of credits.

Also making their Broadway debuts are Jai’ Len Christine Li Josey as Pearl the Whale, who has a voice that could outshine any major American pop star that shakes the theatre in the little stage time she has, and the hilarious Stephanie Hsu as Plankton’s sidekick, Karen the computer.

The costumes are minimal but the energy of the performers and the direction by Tina Landau, combined with Kyle Jarrow’s excellent book, make Bikini Bottom, the town where Spongebob and all his friends live, come to life. The story is original and the music is written by over a dozen famous singer-songwriters including Plain White T’s, Sara Bareilles, Panic at the Disco John Legend and Steven Tyler. While I thought this was an exciting concept before seeing the show, it was also my one issue with it. The brilliant opening number, “Bikini Bottom Day,” which had a few reprises throughout the show in addition to closing the show, was written by relatively unknown composer Jonathan Coulton. The entire score should have been left to him as most of the celebrity-composed numbers pale in comparison, although Lady Antebellum’s “Chop to the Top,” Alex Ebert from the band Edward Sharp and the Magnetic Zeros’ “Daddy Knows Best,” and Cyndi Lauper’s “Hero is My Middle Name” were almost as good.

This will definitely be my go-to show when friends or relatives pop into town and wish to see a Broadway show. As long as tickets remain relatively easy to get on the day of the show, which may not necessarily be the case much longer, I would say buy your tickets before you get into town. It is not necessary to have seen the television show to understand or enjoy the musical, so come to the Big Apple and have a good time,


Spongebob Squarepants: The Broadway Musical
Palace Theater
1564 Broadway
New York, N.Y. 10036
Runtime: 2 hours and 20 minutes

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

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