Spectacular Design and Delightful Surprises Abound in SPONGEBOB THE MUSICAL

Spectacular Design and Delightful Surprises Abound in SPONGEBOB THE MUSICAL

Lilli Cooper and Ethan Slater. Photo by Joan Marcus

Review: SPONGEBOB THE MUSICAL at the Oriental Theatre

by Hilary Holbrook

I was skeptical. I loathe the cartoon, but SPONGEBOB THE MUSICAL just might be the surprise “feel good” musical that delights kids of all ages and gets everyone excited about Broadway musicals.

The design is the true star of this show. When you enter the space, you are immediately transported to a place that is a mix between a seaside party and an underwater adventure. Light “tiki bar”-esque music is heard while guests are finding their seats, helping audiences to forget the expectation of seeing a cartoon on stage and just enjoy the big beautiful space created by David Zinn. Zinn, who also designed the costumes, did a fantastic job of paying homage to the cartoon while showing us something new. The use of projections was incredible, and Peter Nigrini is certainly to be commended. The foley design, which is always fun to watch, by Mike Dobson helped push this production from a musical to an experience. The world was vivid, clear, engaging, surprising, and fun, and the music added to that experience – although I’m not sure if I’ll be cranking up those tunes on my playlist.

Nickelodeon recruited a slew of well-known artists to contribute one song each. Sara Bareilles, Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith, The Plain White T’s, and Cyndi Lauper are just a few of the big names associated with this project. A risky move because the different music styles could easily translate into a disjointed story—but that is not the case here. Each song works and helps move the story forward, but the story, through no fault of its own, prevents these songs from being memorable. The book, written by Kyle Jarrow, is a pretty typical children’s story. A big event happens. Life as we know it is threatened. The power of friendship prevails, and everyone lives happily ever after. The story is what it needs to be, and that is just fine because the cast, led by Ethan Slater as SpongeBob, sells it for everything it’s worth.

I cringe every time I see another movie, tv show, or cartoon on the stage because it seems like we’re running out of ideas. However, the positive side to that is a familiar show, more than a brand new one, gets people and kids into the house. If SPONGEBOB THE MUSICAL gets the next generation inspired and excited about the theater, then I’m for it. Pass me a kelp juice because this girl is a convert.

For tickets visit: Broadway In Chicago: SPONGEBOB

About author

Hilary Holbrook

Hilary Holbrook has worked as an actor and violinist in Chicago since graduating from Loyola in 2008. When not in the theater, Hilary enjoys knitting, antiquing, and adventures of all kinds!