A French accented narrator (a droll voice-over by Tom Kenny) fills us in about life in Bikini Bottom and its zany populace of ocean dwellers. The town is threatened by a soon-to-erupt volcano. This approaching disaster sets into play odious machinations by the autocratic, female mayor, a villainous restaurant owner and his steely wife. Will the downtrodden, and his BFF, the dim-witted starfish Patrick Star, save the day?
If it were possible to hum scenery, then David Zinn’s dazzling scenic design would be a grand symphony. The Palace Theatre has been reconfigured into an immersive, neon-tinged nautical universe. Life preservers, surfboards, Peter Nigrini’s cool projections of fish, weather corrugated steel panels, boom boxes, nets, ramps are all on display.
Mr. Zinn provides a phosphorescent and optically rich canvas that imaginatively reimagines the television show’s locales for the stage.
Equally as enticing are Zinn’s Dr. Seuss and Hunger Games-style costumes. Feathers, sequins and luminescent fabrics render the numerous creatures with pizzazz.
Director and conceiver Tina Landau’s euphoric staging vigorously emphasizes spectacle, humor and sensitivity. Choreographer Christopher Gattelli has the large ensemble sensationally dancing in a number of giddy, group songs, sometimes in slow motion,as well as a few stand out solo turns.
A corps of sardines in a gospel sequence, pink jellyfish manipulated on poles, Rube Goldberg contraptions on the sides of the stage that hurl boulders, beach balls thrown into the audience, marauding pirates, a heavenly cascade of bubbles, and a character flying through the air wearing a jet pack are among the production’s exhilarating highlights.
Kyle Jarrow’s cheeky book loyally represents original Nickelodeon creator Stephen Hillenburg’s vision with glee. Though intended for children, the material is edgy enough to entertain adults with its occasional political satire.
The score is an assemblage of functional and temporarily catchy songs written specifically for the show that connect to the material and that are created by notable pop figures. Cyndi Lauper, John Legend, Sara Bareilles, Aerosmith, They Might Be Giants, Lady Antebellum, The Flaming Lips, Panic! At The Disco, Jonathan Coulton, Plain White T’s, Alex Ebert, T.I., Tom Kenny, Andy Paley, and Yolanda Adams are the contributors.
The zippy “SpongeBob SquarePants Theme Song” by Derek Drymon, Mark Harrison, Hillenburg and Blaise Smith is heard during the finale.
“No Control” by David Bowie and Brian Eno from Bowie’s 1995 concept album Outside is also part of the program. It’s used for an eerie number that has television news reporter Perch Perkins (the captivating Kelvin Moon Loh) broadcasting about the impending apocalypse.
Tom Kitt’s music supervision, arrangements and orchestrations realize this disparate assortment into a unified score. Walter Trarbach’s sound design proficiently balances the variety of music and effects.
Vibrantly enhancing the events is Kevin Adams’ dynamic lighting design. Charles G. LaPointe’s hair design and Joe Dulude II’s makeup design add to the visual splendor.
Decked out in nerdy regalia of a yellow shirt, red tie and plaid pants with suspenders, Ethan Slater is terrific as SpongeBob. The immensely personable Mr. Slater wonderfully sings, dances and acts with the force of a Broadway titan such as Robert Morse in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Using whiny vocal inflections and animated facial expressions, Slater perfectly replicates the essence of the television character.
Combining the mania of Jim Carrey and the campiness of Paul Lynde, Gavin Lee steals all of his scenes as the stage struck Squidward Q. Tentacles. This cranky octopus is SpongeBob’s neighbor and co-worker at the Krusty Krab restaurant. Wearing skinny pants with two extra legs attached, the lean and wiry Mr. Lee’s showstopper, “I’m Not a Loser,” is a knockout.
The full-voiced and girlish Lilli Cooper is a delight as Sandy Cheeks. Brian Ray Norris is marvelously irascible as the mercenary crab boss, Eugene Krabs. The affable Danny Skinner is a loveable lug as the spacy starfish Patrick. In full Dr. Evil mode, the green-suited Wesley Taylor wearing an eye patch and jet-black ponytail, revels in hyperbolic malevolence as the nefarious copepod, Sheldon Plankton.
Jai’len Christine Li Josey (the whale Pearl Krabs), Stephanie Hsu (Karen the Computer), Gaelen Gilliland (The Mayor) JC Schuster (Old Man Jenkins) Jon Rua (Patchy The Pirate), Allan K. Washington (Larry The Lobster), Abby C. Smith (Mrs. Puff) and Curtis Holbrook, L’ogan J’ones and Kyle Matthew Hamilton as the boy band, “The Electric Skates,” all deliver vivid characterizations in their colorful roles.
SpongeBob SquarePants, The Broadway Musical’s two acts and one intermission lasts a somewhat sluggish two and a half hours. Portions of it are over-extended, repetitious and tangential. Perhaps for Broadway, its creators felt the need to really make it a full-length show. In this case, less would have been more, though the abundant merriment is still pleasurable.
SpongeBob SquarePants, The Broadway Musical (through September 16, 2018)
Palace Theatre, 1564 Broadway at 47th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 866-448-7849 or visit http://www.spongebobbroadway.com
Running time: two and a half hours including one intermission