In these dark times, a musical about an irrepressibly upbeat cartoon sponge who lives in a pineapple under the sea may be just the thing we need.
I’m talking, of course, about The SpongeBob Musical, the Broadway touring production of which is now up at the Denver Center’s Buell Theatre. Wildly colorful, eruptingly effervescent, shamelessly corny and adhesively faithful to the long-running cartoon series it’s based on, The SpongeBob Musical is, as one dad I heard leaving the opening night show said, “unexpectedly great.”
Theatre snobs may scoff at musicals based on existing properties like this, but if it’s done well, who cares? As parents who sat through many hundreds of hours of SpongeBob SquarePants as our youngest child grew up, it was a treat for my wife and I to sit there with Andy, now 18, and be transported back to all the wacky characters imagined by creator Stephen Hillenburg.
There was SpongeBob himself, played beautifully by Lorenzo Pugliese, who captured not only the character’s supreme naivete but also an impressive array of the original’s voice, mannerisms and movements. As his sidekick and BFF Patrick, Beau Bradshaw goes beyond just being dumb as a rock and breathes plenty of life into the thickheaded and hunger-focused sea star.
Although she was not in every episode of the show, Sandy Cheeks (Daria Pilar Redus) is a central character in the musical, playing a squirrel from Texas who inexplicably lives under the sea (in the TV show she wears a diving suit), knows a lot about science and is an active practitioner of karate. With nearby Mount Humungous about to erupt and destroy Bikini Bottom, it’s up to Sandy to figure out how science can save the day.
Along the way, we’re treated to a strong lineup of musical numbers created by everyone from They Might Be Giants and David Bowie to Sara Bareilles and The Flaming Lips. It’s a pretty rockin’ show and a ton of fun from start to finish.
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With the specter of the coronavirus outbreak hanging over any public gathering these days, it was weird to note how much unintended parallel there was in The SpongeBob Musical. The potential eruption is a disaster that requires an immediate, coordinated response, and much of the action in the show is centered around how poorly prepared Bikini Bottom is to respond to such a thing. There’s talk of everyone staying in their house, jokes about the local government’s inability to do anything more than strategize about preparing plans, fake news and other oddly timely references.
All that aside, this is a musical that really sings. Bikini Bottom as depicted in the cartoon is a hugely colorful place populated by bizarre characters, and the musical’s creators took that ball and ran with it, big time. The costumes are fantastic, the sound effects spot-on and the choreography terrific. The cast is populated by athletic actors ready for anything. Along with the main trio, Cody Cooley as Squidward is a hoot, with an ingenious pair of extra legs accompanying his every step and his acid tongue and morbid outlook firmly in place.
As Mr. Krabs, the owner of the Krusty Krab restaurant where SpongeBob works, Zach Kononov has the maniacal cackle down pat as he portrays the miserly business owner with the giant red claw hands. As his whiny teen daughter Pearl (a whale in the TV show), Méami Maszewski is a powerhouse singer who helps drive another plotline about a benefit concert to help save the town.
And all the rest of those memorable townies are here: Larry the Lobster (Teddy Gales, who also provides the “meow” for pet snail Gary); the scheming Plankton (Tristan McIntyre) and his “Computer wife” Karen (Caitlin Ort); newscaster Perch Perkins (Richie Dupkin); and, of course, the off-stage voice of the Cousteau-like “French Narrator,” Kenneth Ferrone.
There’s also the Plankton Dancers and the Sardine Corps to fill out more townspeople and dance numbers and a variety of other undersea creatures to fully realize the whole Bikini Bottom experience. Standout numbers include “Just a Simple Sponge,” with an ingenious day-glo sponge visual effect; “I’m Not a Loser,” Squidward’s big moment to imagine what fame would be like, and the opener, “Bikini Bottom Day,” where we get to meet the townsfolk.
SpongeBob the Musical is a real treat, a simple, energetic, fun night at the theatre that is truly suitable for all ages. Bring the Purell, your kids, your own inner child and enjoy!