Saturday, March 19, 2022

Back on Stage: West Warwick High School Players Present 'The SpongeBob Musical,' Dedicate Show to Student Who Passed Away

WEST WARWICK, Ri. — In their first live musical in more than two years, the West Warwick High School Players show that when faced with a crisis, a little optimism can go a long way.

The West Warwick High School Players, pictured above during a dress rehearsal Tuesday, will present "The SpongeBob Musical" this weekend. The show opens tonight in the West Warwick High School auditorium, with performances through Sunday.

The SpongeBob Musical, an award-winning Broadway show based on the beloved animated series created by Stephen Hillenburg, opened March 17 in the West Warwick High School auditorium. 

“I grew up with SpongeBob, my brother loves SpongeBob, my family loves it,” Markus D’Ambra, a senior who plays the lovable title character, told The Kent County Daily Times. “Once I heard we were going to do it, it was perfect — I was very psyched to hear that.”

The television show, which first aired on Nickelodeon in 1999, is a “goofy, fun comedy,” senior Ethan Brittsan said, likening it to a “modern version of Looney Tunes.” SpongeBob SquarePants, a yellow sponge who lives underwater inside a pineapple with his pet snail Gary, has nothing but love for his friends and neighbors, Brittsan said.

The larger-than-life musical — which features original music by artists like Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith, Sara Bareilles and The Flaming Lips, among many others — begins as an enthusiastic SpongeBob leads the residents of Bikini Bottom in an energetic opening number. 

Things soon start to seem fishy, however, as tremors rip through the undersea town; a news anchor announces that a volcano is threatening to erupt, and the mayor declares that all citizens must “report home and remain indoors” while the situation is evaluated.

Sarah Petrangelo, a senior at West Warwick High School who plays Sandy Cheeks in the Players' production of "The SpongeBob Musical," rehearses a number Tuesday.

As the first on-stage production that the West Warwick High School Players have been able to perform since January of 2020 — just before the coronavirus pandemic forced the world into lockdown — the storyline is one that will undoubtedly feel familiar to members of the audience.

“It definitely relates back to COVID and what we’ve been experiencing in the world,” senior Sarah Petrangelo said. “Everyone can relate to it.”

Bikini Bottom’s residents don’t have much time to react, D’Ambra said, and hope seems all but lost. But SpongeBob and his pals Sandy Cheeks, played by Petrangelo, and Patrick Star, played by Brittsan, are determined to address the looming threat. 

“They want to be the ones to stop it and save the town, instead of giving up,” D’Ambra said. “Even when others are saying, ‘no, it’s not going to work,’ they still get up to do something.”

While the story aligns with what’s been going on globally, Richard Marchetti, who directs the show alongside Rikki Spelman, said the production was chosen largely because it seemed like a show that would attract a large audience following such a long hiatus.

From left: seniors Ethan Brittsan, as Patrick, and Markus D'Ambra, as SpongeBob, rehearse for "The SpongeBob Musical," opening tonight at West Warwick High School.

“We wanted something fun, lighthearted,” said Marchetti, music coordinator at West Warwick Public Schools. “We just wanted something that would draw people in, make people happy, lift people up, because it’s a story about a character that keeps saying, ‘when the going gets tough, the tough get going.’”

The show can be enjoyed by audience members of any age, Petrangelo added. It’s goofy, Brittsan said, but not too goofy — and in it, he said, the cast has made a strong effort “to get a message across.” 

“I think the moral of the story is to be nice to each other, and just to work as a team,” Petrangelo said. “With everything that’s happening in the world right now, we all should come together.”

For members of the West Warwick High School community, in particular, that message is especially meaningful right now. 

The production is dedicated to Matthew Dennison, the West Warwick High School senior who died last week from injuries sustained in February when the car he was in was struck by an alleged drunk driver.  

“We’re going to do it all for him, and do the best we can for him, because he’s not here to see it,” D’Ambra said of his late classmate. “It’s hard.”

The show highlights the importance of uniting as a community to overcome adversity, Petrangelo pointed out.

“I think that’s really what we’re going through right now with Matt — he was so loved in this community, and what I think we need to do at this time is come together,” she said. “It was important for us to dedicate the show to him, and to his family, and to support each other during this time.”

The cast of 31 students has been working since October on the musical, originally scheduled to run in January but postponed to March due to high COVID-19 case numbers. 

And based on their enthusiasm during a dress rehearsal Tuesday night, it will have been worth the wait.

The West Warwick High School auditorium has been transformed into Bikini Bottom, with fishing nets and lobster traps decorating the stage, as above it float flower clouds that anyone who’s seen the SpongeBob cartoon will recognize. Pool noodles are tied together to resemble reefs; coral-covered oil barrels are tucked to the side.

The set was built by Ken Townsend, technical director and director of property services for the West Warwick school district. There’s a homey-looking pineapple — that’s where SpongeBob lives — a moai head, home to Squidward Tentacles, and a rock topped with a weathervane, beneath which Patrick resides. 

In his portrayal of Patrick, a dimwitted starfish, Brittsan said he hopes to convey that one doesn’t need to be the smartest fish in the sea to contribute in a meaningful way.  

For D’Ambra, who already knew the character well when he was cast as SpongeBob, the goal has been to do justice to the happy-go-lucky, fun-loving sponge. 

Petrangelo, meanwhile, has enjoyed bringing life to Sandy, a squirrel who works as a scientist and lives beneath the sea in a “treedome,” donning a diving suit every time she ventures out of her oxygenated bubble. In honing her character, Petrangelo said the most difficult part to perfect has been Sandy’s Texas drawl. 

Petrangelo, who’s been acting with the Players since she was at Deering Middle School, added that she feels “very fortunate” that she gets to return to the stage one more time before graduating. 

D’Ambra and Brittsan shared similar sentiments. 

“I can’t tell you what a thrill it is to be back here,” said Brittsan, who’s been a member of the Players since entering high school. “We all put a lot of great effort into making these musicals, because a lot of us here are very committed to music. It just feels sort of like a family.”

D’Ambra, whose career with the Players began in middle school, credits the musical theater program with keeping him excited about school all these years. 

“I’m just so thankful for this group,” D’Ambra said. “We’ve all been through a lot, and we’ve come together as a family.”

Just as the Players have helped each other through the difficult times, D’Ambra added, he hopes their rendition of “The SpongeBob Musical” will help audience members see the brighter side of things. 

“It’s been a hard few years for a lot of people,” he said. “I think this is going to cheer a lot of people up and put a smile on people’s faces. It’s just a fun show.”

The SpongeBob Musical runs in the West Warwick High School auditorium March 17, 18 and 19 at 7 p.m., and March 19 and 20 at 2 p.m. Tickets are limited — seats are being sold at 55 percent of capacity — and can be purchased by visiting  

Originally published: March 19, 2022.

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