WHAT “SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical”
WHERE Palace Theatre, 1564 Broadway
INFO $49-$225, ticketmaster.com, 877-250-2929
BOTTOM LINE Great music helps the absorbent one save Bikini Bottom
Not since an orphaned redhead passionately sang about the next day’s promising weather forecast has unbridled optimism been so celebrated on Broadway.
“SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical” is an ode to looking on the bright side, even in the face of major adversity — in this case a volcano that threatens to destroy the beloved cartoon’s home, Bikini Bottom.
Ethan Slater, in his Broadway debut, perfectly captures SpongeBob’s enthusiastic approach to life from the moment he’s discovered curled up inside the pineapple he calls home. Slater, who’s been with this project for nearly five years through workshops and the Chicago tryouts, has the signature nasal voice down pat and he moves like a latter-day Ray Bolger, though with considerably more athleticism.
Director Tina Landau has conceived this show with care, guarding Nickelodeon’s 18-year-old juggernaut while infusing it with a subtle nod to current events (“Blame it on the media”) and musicals of the past. (“Bikini Tevka” the undersea creatures sing, leaving their home in true “Fiddler” style, and the parade of fluorescent jellyfish down the aisles is reminiscent of “Lion King”). The neon set and over-the-top costumes by David Zinn only add to the fantasy.
Ultimately, though, music makes this show, an eclectic array from some Billboard superstars — Panic! At the Disco, John Legend, Lady Antebellum, Sarah Bareilles.
The show’s punk band Electric Skates ups the decibel level while showing off some impressive skateboarding in Aerosmith’s “Bikini Bottom Boogie,” with a brilliant assist from Pearl Krabs (Jai’Len Christine Li Josey). Gavin Lee, as the unappreciated Squidward, stops the show with the spirited tap number “I’m Not a Loser” by They Might Be Giants. Patrick (Danny Skinner as SpongeBob’s loyal sea star pal) raises the roof in the gospel-tinged “Super Sea Star Savior” by Yolanda Adams, and the squirrel Sandy (Lilli Cooper as the interloping land mammal) joins SpongeBob and Patrick in the rousing anthem “Hero Is My Middle Name” by Cyndi Lauper and Rob Hyman. Oh, yes, the familiar theme song’s there too, in a rockin’ version following the curtain call.
Fans of the absorbent one (Barack Obama among them) will obviously eat this up, especially delighting in the taped narration by none other than Tom Kenny, the voice of SpongeBob from the beginning. But people who’ve not watched a single episode (OK, I confess) will quickly fall under Bikini Bottom’s spell. To those who can’t imagine this as anything beyond basic kids’ fare, here’s some advice. Check your preconceptions at the door and enjoy the ride.