What do Panic! At the Disco, Cyndi Lauper, T.I., and David Bowie all have in common? These drastically different artists all contributed their musical talents to “The Spongebob Musical.” After debuting in Chicago in 2016 and spending less than a year on Broadway, this family-friendly musical based on the Nickelodeon classic is now on a nationwide tour. From Oct. 15 through Oct. 27, the brand new tour cast of the twelve-time Tony-nominated musical took to the stage at the Boch Center and reminded audiences why Spongebob Squarepants is loved across generations.
Those who did not get to see “The Spongebob Musical” during its time in Chicago or its short residency at the Palace Theatre in New York did not have the chance to witness Ethan Slater’s Tony-nominated performance of the titular main character. Slater truly made the show — there is no “The Spongebob Musical” without him. But his staunch fans would be proven wrong if they saw Lorenzo Pugliese’s take on the role in this season’s tour. Pugliese’s Spongebob embodies every aspect of the endearing talking sea sponge that fans of both the television series and the musical’s original cast know and love. Pugliese not only has a vocal range that one would never expect from the original cartoon character, but somehow also the physicality and stamina of, well, a cartoon character. At various points of the show, Pugliese climbed moving set pieces, jumped around the stage, ran in place, and danced intricate choreography, all while maintaining Spongebob’s well-known, nasally intonation. Pugliese’s carefully crafted take on such an iconic character was both recognizable and refreshingly unique.
Along with its spot-on portrayal of Spongebob, the show featured on-stage relationships between the other characters in the musical that stayed true to those of the original series. Pugliese’s Spongebob and Beau Bradshaw’s Patrick had the most enviable friendship, exemplified by their performance of the song “BFF” written by the Plain White T’s. Spongebob’s rap battle against Plankton, played by Tristan McIntyre, what could have been risky take on the characters’ familiar rivalry, was bold, hilarious, and still showcased the two characters’ well-known personalities. Pearl Krabs’s (Méami Maszewski) teenage angst and disdain for her father’s, Eugene Krabs (Zach Kononov), obsession with money comes across perfectly in the father-daughter duet “Daddy Knows Best.” Sandy Cheeks’ (Daria Pilar Redus) love of science, expertise in karate, and general badassery came out in “Hero is My Middle Name” and “Chop to the Top.” Squidward Tentacles’s (Cody Cooley) sung soliloquy, “I’m Not a Loser,” incorporates all of the drama, self-pity, intense choreography, and clarinet solos expected of the bitter squid.
What makes “The Spongebob Musical” stand out from most shows is not the almost random collection of artists that wrote its music, the perfect, new takes on beloved cartoon characters, or even Squidward’s four-legged, complicated tap routine; it is the ensemble of the show. The ensemble of this musical is proof that without those in the background, shows simply cannot go on. The ensemble of “The Spongebob Musical” accurately depicted classic supporting characters from the television series such as Old Man Jenkins, Mrs. Puff, and Larry the Lobster, smoothly moved set pieces as the main characters climbed around on them, flawlessly executed Squidward’s tap routine as his backup dancers, and successfully brought the town of Bikini Bottom to life — all while emoting, singing, ad-libbing, and staying in character.
This live-action, musical adaptation breathes new life into “Spongebob Squarepants” with exclusive additions that differentiate the musical from the series. Components like Patrick’s gospel song and the unexpected sexual tension between Plankton and his computer wife Karen (Caitlin Ort) are specific to the musical and give fans of the original show something to enjoy that they cannot get from their television screens. The fresh yet accurate depictions of characters from one of the most culturally-impactful television shows of the 2000’s and the ensemble’s every move in the performance are proof of the clear attention to detail on the part of both the creators and performers. From the sound technician at the back of the stage imitating Spongebob’s squeaky shoes to the familiar flower clouds hanging above the stage no detail was small enough to be overlooked. Even some of the show’s most memorable jokes (“No, Patrick, mayonnaise is still not an instrument”) made the cut. “The Spongebob Musical” incorporates aspects of “Spongebob Squarepants” that those who grew up watching the show would appreciate such as not-so subtle innuendos, quotes from iconic episodes, and recognizable supporting characters even a whole Patchy the Pirate subplot. Every component of “The Spongebob Musical” was carefully and successfully crafted in order to immerse the audience in the lives of their favorite underwater sea-sponge and his friends for “the best day ever.”
—Staff writer Annie Harrigan can be reached at email@example.com.