Regional Reviews: Phoenix
The SpongeBob Musical
If you're unfamiliar with the TV show, the musical and the TV series center on a sea sponge named SpongeBob who lives in a pineapple in the underwater city of Bikini Bottom. He has a pet snail that meows like a kitten, his best friend is Patrick, a starfish, and he's also good friends with Sandy, a squirrel who frequently visits their underwater world. The plot of the musical follows these three main characters and the rest of the townspeople, as they learn that a nearby volcano is set to erupt in less than two days that will instantly wipe out all of Bikini Bottom.
Kyle Jarrow's book does a good job of introducing the characters and their relationships to each other. It also never takes itself seriously, even though it touches upon such serious topics as global warming, the government's inability to act in a disaster, and xenophobia in how Sandy is treated as an outsider by the residents of Bikini Bottom when she has an idea on how to stop the volcano from erupting. However, there are a number of subplots that take the story all over the place and often interrupt the flow, including SpongeBob's management abilities not being taken seriously by his boss, Mr. Krabs, and Patrick suddenly finding himself a God-like figure worshiped by a school of sardines. The over-the-top maniacal scheming of the musical's antagonist, Sheldon Plankton, his estranged relationship with his computer wife, and the many screaming outbursts from the characters stop the momentum numerous times. While this insanity all may work for a cartoon, the repetitive nature and continual loud outbursts gets very old in a stage musical.
The score, which has contributions from numerous well-known pop and rock artists, including Cyndi Lauper, Sara Bareilles, John Legend, and Aerosmith's Steven Tyler and Joe Perry, is just OK, with multiple songs that are average and a few that are truly bad, as well as several ballad-heavy tunes that slow down the show's momentum. Fortunately, even though there are multiple songwriters, the orchestrations by Tom Kitt help the songs all flow together smoothly and there are a few tunes with catchy hooks that will most likely get stuck in your head, including the snazzy opening number, "Bikini Bottom Day," the jubilant "Poor Pirates," and the heartwarming "(Just A) Simple Sponge."
However, while the show is long and silly and the score has some flaws, it's still a cute and charming musical, and director Stephen Casey and his stellar cast and creative team have done a wonderful job re-creating the colorful cartoon world and energetic nature of the animated characters. With an always sunny disposition, a warm singing voice, and a bright line delivery, Loren Stone is endearing and lovable as the happy-go-lucky SpongeBob. He perfectly embodies the beloved cartoon character with comical mannerisms and facial expressions, an engaging stage presence, and a squeaky voice with a little giggle that sounds exactly like the cartoon character. Elliott Scott Smith is equally lovable and just as adorable as the dimwitted Patrick, and Jazmin Noel Moehring is brassy and bright as the smart, karate-chopping Sandy. They form a fun trio of friends and have very good singing voices that shine on their many songs.
In supporting roles, Tyler Pirrung is a hoot as the tentacled Squidward who, even though he's called a loser, is just waiting for his moment to finally be in the spotlight, with a flashy tap number that he leads in the second act that's a crowd pleaser, and Alex Pineiro has a good handle on the maniacal antagonist Sheldon Plankton. Lionel Ruland is comically cantankerous as the money-loving Eugene Krabs, and Kayla Arias is warm and charming as his daughter Pearl. As Plankton's computer wife Karen, Lynzee Foreman delivers another winning performance and Ross Coughlin is funny as Patchy the Pirate. Adam Hainsel, Stephen C. Kallas, Bruno Streck Rodrigues, Melody Lieberman, and Brandi Bigley round out the other characters in the show, with Streck Rodrigues also entirely endearing as the meowing voice of SpongeBob's pet snail.
While the props and a few of the costumes are rentals from other productions of the show, Lottie Dixon's costume designs are excellent, with comical and colorful touches for every character that tie into their cartoon counterparts. Douglas A. Clarke's set design is whimsical, with bright colors and imaginative elements that perfectly derive the undersea environs. Bret Reese's colorful lighting is wonderful and Casey's choreography is fun and upbeat. Adam Berger's music direction delivers impressive notes from both the cast and the onstage band, and all sound great through Jesse Worley's clear sound design. An added element for this show is having a foley artist located on the side of the stage and Matt Griesgraber, under Ryan Blihovde's instruction and design, does a great job providing live sound effects that are perfectly in sync to the action on stage.
While being familiar with the SpongeBob show in advance will help you understand the characters and give you a greater appreciation of how both the original creators and the ABT cast and production team have brought these beloved characters to life on stage, and even though it's long and some of the songs are just average, you can still find much enjoyment from this energetic and well-cast production of the bright and fun musical comedy.
The SpongeBob Musical runs through July 17, 2022, at Arizona Broadway Theatre, 7701 West Paradise Lane, Peoria AZ. For tickets and information, please visit www.azbroadway.org or call 623-776-8400.
Direction/Choreography: Stephen Casey