Monday, December 11, 2017

'SpongeBob SquarePants' out to make a splash on Broadway (Updated 12/11)

SpongeBob SquarePants, a cartoon denizen of the deep, is making his Broadway debut. CBS News' David Pogue has a preview!

The cast of "SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical." The charm and humor of the Nickelodeon cartoon set in the undersea world of Bikini Bottom is now live on stage. | Joan Marcus

SpongeBob SquarePants has been on the Nickelodeon TV Channel for 18 years and is still going strong. It tells absurdist tales of an optimistic sea sponge who lives in a pineapple under the sea, along with his saltwater pals.

But once you've made 250 TV episodes, two movies, a comic book, a video-game series, three music albums, and a theme-park ride, where do you go from there?

To the Great White Way, of course! SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical officially opens in New York on Monday 4th December 2017, following a month of previews. But if you're imagining actors dancing around inside giant SpongeBob heads, you're mistaken.

"I thought what they were asking me to come in about was kind of a theme park show with big mascot costume heads, and so I said no," said Tina Landau, the musical's director and co-conceiver.

"And he said, 'Well, wait a minute, Steve Hillenburg, the creator of the show, comes from experimental animation, and is a marine biologist, and he's really interested in some form that is 'indie,' is what they called it."

Translation: Landau set out to find offbeat way to suggest the SpongeBob characters, without precisely reproducing them.

"We were nervous," said Landau. "I guess the biggest question we had is, what will kids think of SpongeBob? But one of my favorite comments ever was someone said to us afterwards, 'I loved it because I got to see what SpongeBob looks like in real life.'"

Ethan Slater stars as SpongeBob in "SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical," inspired by the animated cartoon series. | Nickelodeon/Joan Marcus

As it turns out, he looks a lot like newcomer Ethan Slater.

He told Pogue, "I had never tried a SpongeBob voice. I had never tried a SpongeBob laugh. So I just came into the audition, and Tina said, like, 'Great job, really like, love what you're doing. Come back in and do the voice. That's sort of important!'"

But he's got the laugh down pat now.

Slater is joined by Danny Skinner (who plays Patrick the Starfish); Lilli Cooper (who plays Sandy the Squirrel); and Gavin Lee (who plays Squidward the Octopus).

Gavin Lee plays Squidward
the Octopus.
Credit: Nickelodeon/Joan Marcus

"Well, first thing I'll say is, I'm really glad that I'm not in a big sponge Squidward costume, 'cause I don't know whether I would have wanted to do the job," Lee said.

So, what elements of the cartoon are present?

"I think to start, it is immediately, recognizably SpongeBob," said Slater. "From the sky flowers, to the colors, to the palette, the jokes feel like the characters that you know and love."

Skinner's character, Patrick, is kind of a dumb guy. "Oh, he's not dumb. He's just smart in a different way."

Tony Award-winner David Zinn designed the sets and costumes. He's packed the show with everything from giant Rube Goldberg-type contraptions to Squidward's four-legged costume.

A tap-dancing octopus isn't the only surprise; the songs come from a pantheon of pop stars, including Cyndi Lauper, John Legend, David Bowie and Aerosmith.

One of the musical performers is in full view of the audience during the show: percussionist Mike Dobson. He's a one-man sound effects department. He said his busiest moment in the show is the opening number, "where Spongebob comes to say hello to me. He says, 'Oh, hello, guy-making-all-the-sounds! And we do this little sequence that he goes crazy with."

"Did you go to school for that?" Pogue asked.

"Yeah. Conservatory! It's very serious stuff."

Whether the SpongeBob musical is a hit or a flop, Landau says that she has loved the journey. She's been working on it, on and off, for ten years -- and, in a way, her whole life.

"When I was little, I wanted to be a director or an oceanographer," she said. "And it took me a really long time to figure out that the two are related, in that they're both about entering worlds that are other than our everyday waking lives.

"And I feel like, yeah, we're creating some hybrid experience of being in the theater, and being underwater, and being in a carnival, and a rock concert, and a party all at once!"

You can stream the original Broadway cast album of SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical by clicking on the embed below (Free Spotify registration required to hear full tracks):

Full information about the The SpongeBob Musical can be found on the productions official website,! #SpongeBobBway.

SpongeBob SquarePants - The New Musical Original Cast Recording is available to listen to and purchase today at

Online / Social Media
Twitter: @SpongeBobBway
Instagram: #spongebobbway

More Nick: Are You Ready Kids? SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS Musical Begins Broadway Previews; New Block Of Tickets Available!

Additional source: Broadway World.

Also from Broadway World:

Songs of SPONGEBOB: How Bikini Bottom Started Singing Long Before Broadway

SpongeBob SquarePants on Broadway officially opens tonight, December 4th, at The Palace Theatre.

SpongeBob SquarePants is a one-of-a-kind musical event with original songs by Yolanda Adams, Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith, Sara Bareilles, Jonathan Coulton, Alexander Ebert of Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, The Flaming Lips, Lady Antebellum, Cyndi Lauper, John Legend, Panic! At the Disco, Plain White T's, They Might Be Giants and T.I., and a song by David Bowie and by Tom Kenny and Andy Paley. Additional lyrics by Jonathan Coulton. Additional music by Tom Kitt.

Though the citizens of Bikini Bottom will be making their Broadway debuts this season, Spongebob and friends have been singing long before they made their way to the stage.

The TV series SpongeBob SquarePants contains a rather large collection of songs created specifically for the show. Over the years, special guests and songs by popular bands have also found their way into the animated hit. And it's not just the Sponge himself belting them out, the show has also produced original music for his pals Patrick, Sandy, Squidward, Mr. Krabs, and even Plankton!

Songs from the show have proven so popular over the years, Nickelodeon has released several records featuring songs from the show including The Yellow Album and SpongeBob's Greatest Hits, in addition to a full score of music for the feature film of the hit cartoon series.

With all this singing, it's no wonder SpongeBob and company have finally made their way to the Broadway stage! To celebrate SpongeBob's big Broadway opening, check out some of the best songs from the cartoon series below!

The SpongeBob SquarePants cast includes Ethan Slater as SpongeBob SquarePants, Gavin Lee as Squidward Q. Tentacles, Lilli Cooper as Sandy Cheeks, Brian Ray Norris as Eugene Krabs, Wesley Taylor as Sheldon Plankton and Danny Skinner as Patrick Star.

Stakes are higher than ever before as SpongeBob and all of Bikini Bottom face the total annihilation of their undersea world. Chaos erupts. Lives hang in the balance. And just when all hope seems lost, a most unexpected hero rises up and takes center stage. Get ready to dive to all-new depths of theatrical innovation at SpongeBob SquarePants, where the power of optimism really can save the world!


Also, from Metro US:

Does Spongebob Squarepants work as a Broadway musical?

We asked the star(fish) of Spongebob Squarepants: The Musical, Danny Skinner, about why it's the magical, inclusive, surprising show we need right now.

With The Lion King celebrating 20 years on Broadway this year, Disney has long since proven that it’s possible to translate animation to the stage. Now, Nickelodeon aims to capture the same magic with one of the network’s most beloved series splashing onto Broadway on Dec. 4.

Spongebob Squarepants: The Musical confronts the residents of Bikini Bottom with their greatest threat yet: an erupting volcano. Will the gang of underwater misfits, led by a determined yellow sponge, save the day? Definitely, but the biggest question is: Can a beloved children’s cartoon translate into a musical for all ages?

We asked one of the people who knows best, the show’s star(fish) Danny Skinner.

Everyone lives in Bikini Bottom

Just because they’re animated, doesn’t mean these characters don’t carry the necessary gravitas for Broadway.

Skinner, who originated the role of Patrick Star in Chicago before making his Broadway debut this winter, calls the opportunity to bring him to life onstage a “dream come true.” Long before Skinner first auditioned for the show (more than five years ago), Patrick had already played a meaningful part in his childhood.

“I remember watching it on my parents’ bed and thinking, ‘Oh my god, that’s a character who looks like me!’” he recalls. “You know, he’s a little bigger, and as a kid it’s so important to find representation of yourself on TV.”

Serious stagecraft

Audiences will see right away that they aren’t getting a literal replica of the cartoon when the characters step onstage looking like humans, rather than square- or star-shaped sea creatures (and the odd squirrel).

And that's not where the differences end. “There’s what director Tina Landau calls ‘Spongebob DNA,’” Skinner says. “[The cast] watched the show together, and she told us we weren’t supposed to be trying to copycat them, their voices, but finding our own Spongebob DNA. So we got to create our own thing.”

To help convey Patrick’s signature physicality without a giant pink foam suit, Skinner looked to the legends of physical comedy: “I turned to a lot of slapstick performers like Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, Charlie Chaplin.”

Interpretive costumes are aided by a playful set (all by David Zinn) that invites audiences to imagine an underwater world, rather than literally recreating Bikini Bottom. “There’s a lot of stage magic, a lot of suggestion,” says Skinner.

The music of our moment

Instead of finding one composer to craft the sound of life under the sea, Spongebob Squarepants’ score brings together a roster of Grammy winners to amplify every magical moment of the story with original songs created just for the show.

Contributors include Aerosmith, John Legend, Cyndi Lauper, The Flaming Lips, Panic at the Disco! and even David Bowie.

“We got some of the best artists in the business to write the music. Each one was so distinctly their own, but they all work together,” Skinner says, crediting the seamless arrangements to music director Tom Kitt. “The show is constantly surprising.”

Save us, Spongebob

Let’s be real — life here on dry land isn’t amazing right now. The arrival of the Spongebob gang’s bubbly feel-good story about coming together to save the world couldn’t be a better diversion — and maybe even inspiration? — for the real world.

“We are in a climate where the world is falling apart, but Spongebob says that we get to choose how we respond in every moment, with our friends and community,” says Skinner. “He is the eternal optimist. It’s a great message and a magical show.”

Spongebob Squarepants: The Musical officially begins its open-ended run on Dec. 4 at the Palace Theatre, 1564 Broadway. Tickets are $49-$204, available now at


Also, from Entertainment Tonight:

How Writer Kyle Jarrow Brought ‘SpongeBob SquarePants’ to Life on Broadway (Exclusive)

Perhaps one of the most unusual and surprising shows to open on Broadway in 2017 is a musical adaptation of Nickelodeon’s SpongeBob SquarePants. An international sensation, the long-running cartoon about the adventures of a yellow anthropomorphic sea sponge and his underwater friends living in the city of Bikini Bottom has spawned two movies, video games and theme park rides.

Now, SpongeBob’s eclectic world is the source of a delightful new theater production conceived and directed by Tina Landau with a book written by Kyle Jarrow and music supervision, orchestration and arrangements by Tom Kitt. The show, playing at The Palace Theatre, stars Ethan Slater as the titular sponge, Gavin Lee as Squidward Q. Tentacles, Lilli Cooper as Sandy Cheeks, Danny Skinner as Patrick Star and Wesley Taylor as Sheldon Plankton.

“When I heard that they were developing it, my head exploded,” says Jarrow, who jumped at the opportunity to be part of the production. Having worked in theater since 2003, he won an Obie Award with director Alex Timbers for his work on A Very Merry Unauthorized Children's Scientology Pageant. In addition to the numerous shows he’s written for the stage, he’s also the creator and writer of Valor on The CW.

Now that the show is now playing on Broadway, Jarrow explains how he brought SpongeBob to life on stage.

Accept That It’s a Huge Responsibility

When it came to adapting the cartoon for a major Broadway production, there was a lot of stake -- and even more people invested in its success. First off, there’s the creator, Stephen Hillenburg. Then there’s the network, Nickelodeon, that’s been home to the cartoon from the very first episode. (“[Execs had] fewer notes than you might think,” Jarrow says.) You also have Andy Paley, longtime producer for the likes of Brian Wilson and Jerry Lee Lewis, who composed much of SpongeBob’s original music, including the 2004 movie’s closing credits song “The Best Day Ever,” which is also featured in the musical; and Tom Kenny, who voices SpongeBob, giving the character his distinct sound. On top of that, there’s the production’s director, Landau, who previously helmed Superior Donuts and Bells Are Ringing on Broadway. Oh, and all the fans, young and old, of the long-running animated franchise.

“It did feel like a big responsibility because you’re taking this huge brand with so many fans, including myself, and you want to be true to it, but you also want to transform it,” Jarrow says, adding he was lucky enough to meet Hillenburg and some of the animators of the series.

A fan of the cartoon since his college days, when he would watch it with his roommate, Jarrow made it his mission to immerse himself in the world of Bikini Bottom. “I just watched maybe, almost, if not definitely, every episode ever made,” he says. “I just let it seep into my brain -- that was my strategy. I hopefully absorbed the DNA.”

Write an Original Story

With 11 seasons and two movie adaptations, there were a lot of story ideas to choose from, but Jarrow makes clear the plan was always to come up with a new adventure for the stage. Yes, the familiar characters are still there, set in the same universe that’s been established onscreen, but “[we wanted] to really make an original story,” he says.

In the Broadway adaptation, SpongeBob finds himself unexpectedly tasked with saving his underwater city when it’s discovered a nearby volcano is about to erupt. As the city falls into chaos, with the residents turning on each other and pursuing diabolical schemes, SpongeBob (along with Patrick and Sandy) pushes forward with a mission to stop the volcano.

“We honed in on this story about the end of the world coming and this community of Bikini Bottom reacting to that. Do we come together, do we turn on each other? How do we deal with the apocalypse coming?” Jarrow says, explaining it was fun to bring a story with real high stakes and an emotional center to the SpongeBob universe. “It’s a strong spine for a story that could go a lot of different directions,” and importantly, allow them to explore different reactions and stories with the city’s most familiar characters.

While SpongeBob sets off to stop the volcano, Squidward yearns to be appreciated, particularly by performing in a talent show devised to raise money for an escape on Plankton’s ship; Mr. Krabs finds a way to capitalize on the town’s hunger pains; and Patrick deals with some unexpected stardom.

Know Your Limits

When it comes to presenting SpongeBob on Broadway, or any stage for that matter, some things have to be adapted and changed simply for the medium it’s being presented in. (No, there’s no water, but there’s plenty of whimsy and imagination packed into the stage design to make Bikini Bottom feel fully realized.) Working with Landau, the two had to figure out where they had stay true to what people are familiar with and where they could change it.

But no matter how far they wanted to take it, Jarrow knew there were some limitations, in keeping with the SpongeBob universe. “They don’t do pop culture references,” he says, explaining that there would never be a character named “Britney Spearfish.” “That’s just not part of the world.” SpongeBob SquarePants also never tells romantic stories -- at least not with its central sponge. “They just never have. That’s just not what that character is about,” he says matter-of-factly.

Of course, then there’s the core audience to think about. “There are definitely a lot of jokes that are for adults,” he says, adding that more and more were added as the show developed. But while SpongeBob has found an older audience, it’s still a children’s cartoon. There has to be a balance in jokes and references, so that it’s still kid-friendly. “It’s obviously super appropriate for kids and there’s certainly no sexual humor, but there’s tons of subversive humor.”

Outsource the Music to Famous Stars

Perhaps one of the most unique aspects of the musical is that it features 18 original songs written by the likes of John Legend, Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith, Lady Antebellum, Panic! At the Disco, Plain White T’s, T.I., Sara Bareilles and more. All of them bring a different sound or perspective that somehow works in SpongeBob’s eclectic world -- with some very, very unexpected results, like alt rockers They Might Be Giants penning Squidward’s tap dance showstopper, “I’m Not a Loser.”

In order to get songs that worked with the story at hand, Jarrow says the team would outline the scene for each artist: “Here’s what the scene is leading into. Here’s what the song needs to accomplish. Here’s the character who sings it.” In some cases, he adds, he would provide script pages or lyrical prompts.

“I think they actually responded really well to ‘Here are some really clear parameters of what we need,’” Jarrow continues. “I've got to tell you, when we would get these demos back from these artists, they were all great. They all really fit.” It certainly helped that most were fans of the cartoon and understood the tone of the series.

Let the Audiences Enjoy It

At the end of the day, now that the show is open and audiences are getting to experience a new version of the beloved cartoon, Jarrow hopes people are inspired by its optimism. “He's a character who looks at even the craziest, weirdest, worst situations and comes away smiling about them,” he says, acknowledging the crazy world we find ourselves in today. “I hope that audiences will walk out of that theater above all having had a great time and feeling a sense of hope and optimism. If we give that to audiences, then that's a home run.”

SpongeBob SquarePantsis now playing at The Palace Theatre.


Originally posted: Monday, December 04, 2017.
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