I was six years old when my neighbors, a boy my age and his older brother, introduced me to a new cartoon show about a happy-go-lucky kitchen sponge living in a subaquatic pineapple in a town populated by colorful undersea characters. That show would become a large part of my childhood, and it has long since been a source of my humor and imagination. Even now when I rewatch an episode, I can't help but chuckle at some goofy quote or ridiculous visual pun. On a Saturday night this December, my best friend (also a fan) and I returned to Bikini Bottom, in person.
When I heard SpongeBob Squarepants was being made into a Broadway musical last year, I was immediately intrigued but soon confused as I learned the show’s director was making the conscious effort to portray SpongeBob and his nautical friends in human form. I decided I had to attend the show, which just opened on Broadway Monday December 4th of this year. Between the performances of the incredibly animated actors, who each had their own unique and mellifluous singing voice that best suited their character, the creative costume design, and the stunning found-object sets, I felt as though I had swam through the ocean and discovered Bikini Bottom in its vibrant whimsy.
What made the musical so stunning was its expressive use of detail. The actors costumes’ had a suggestive tone of their cartoon counterparts, from SpongeBob’s suspenders and plaid pants, Patrick’s pink and green Hawaiian patterns, to Sandy’s cut afro and pinned flower, which ingeniously alluded to her deep sea cartoon bowl helmet. On stage, pool noodles became reef, stacks of boxes and ladders interpreted a mountain, and umbrellas floated like jellyfish in an enchanting undersea garden. The costume and set design demonstrated a mastery of nonsensical playfulness along with other inventive components to the show, like the construction of Rube Goldberg machines that framed the stage and interacted with both the actors and the audience.
One of the most humorous aspects of the musical was the offbeat use of sound effects. A live Foley artist sat in view of the audience and used various instruments, devices, and all kinds of bells and whistles to accompany the movement of Squidward’s tentacle walk, Sandy’s karate chopping, and other funny motions. The sound artist also used drum-rolls to pair with lighting effects for certain cues and cutaways that often resembled the television show’s pacing. Without the added effects, a crucial part of the cartoon’s humor would be missing.
The colors and overall vision were enough to transport me to Bikini Bottom, but the personalities of the actors and their individual approaches to the popular television show introduced me to the characters, I felt a genuine connection to Spongebob and his friends. I have always enjoyed the zaniness and surprising wit of all the characters, though I will say that I naturally gravitate toward SpongeBob due to our optimistic similarities. The actor portraying my favorite sponge became the yellow character in human form, his ebullience and unbreakable cheer was the living embodiment of SpongeBob Squarepants and all he stands for. All the characters’ voices and costume designs, the vivacious settings, and the hilarity of the sound effects, use of lighting, and cartoon-esque cues were all necessary and inclusive to the musical's overall sensory appeal, the feeling was true to the television show.
I want to thank the cast, the creative team, and the producers and directors for such a memorable show. For me, SpongeBob Squarepants The Broadway Musical, was not just an incredible theater experience, it was sentimental, a tender visit back into my childhood.