This Week in New York Insider's Guide to Arts & Culture in New York City Since 2001



(photo by Joan Marcus)

The cast of SpongeBob SquarePants jumps for joy as disaster threatens in Broadway extravaganza (photo by Joan Marcus)

Palace Theatre
1564 Broadway at 47th St.
Tuesday - Sunday through September 2, $49-$145

When a volcano threatens to destroy the undersea community of Bikini Bottom, the motley crew of residents must come together in order to survive in the tons-of-fun Broadway extravaganza SpongeBob SquarePants. Conceived and directed by Tina Landau based on Stephen Hillenburg’s long-running tongue-in-cheek cartoon series, which debuted on Nickelodeon in 2003, the musical version is a delight for both kids and adults. Tony-winning scenic designer David Zinn (The Humans, Fun Home) has transformed the Palace Theatre into a fanciful wonderland of undersea detritus hanging from the walls and ceiling and extending off the stage, complete with two huge Rube Goldberg-like machines on either side. Zinn also designed the costumes, keeping them relatively simple, primarily humans with playful elements: SpongeBob portrayer Ethan Slater, in his stirring Broadway debut, is dressed in a yellow shirt, red tie, plaid pants, and knee-length socks, speaking and singing in the cartoon character’s squeaky high-pitched voice; Danny Skinner wears a Hawaiian shirt over a purple tee, bright shorts, and slicked-up hair as SpongeBob’s BFF, the dimwitted but lovable Patrick Star; as crooning octopus Squidward Q. Tentacles, Gavin Lee has an extra pair of legs; Brian Ray Norris as money-loving Krusty Krab owner Eugene Krabs has two giant red claws for hands; Jai’len Christine Li Josey as sperm whale Pearl is dressed like a high school cheerleader; and Lilli Cooper as the squirrel scientist Sandy Cheeks is an astronaut with an Afro. The main cast is rounded out by Wesley Taylor as the evil, eye-patch-wearing villain Sheldon J. Plankton, who wants everyone to eat at his awful Chum Bucket restaurant instead of the Krusty Krab; Stephanie Hsu as his wife, the futuristic-looking Karen the Computer; Gaelen Gilliland as the mayor, who tweets in nonsensical political double talk; Kelvin Moon Loh as television reporter Perch Perkins, who is tracking the volcano’s progress as doomsday beckons; Gary, the mewing snail, who is not played by a person; and Jon Rua as Patchy the Pirate, the president of the SpongeBob SquarePants Fan Club, whose memorabilia is on view in front of the stage on the left side. With the countdown clock ticking down, SpongeBob, Patrick, and the rest of the benthic town desperately try to come up with a plan to save Bikini Bottom before it is laid to waste.

(photo by Joan Marcus)

The devious Sheldon J. Plankton (Wesley Taylor) is up to no good in SpongeBob SquarePants (photo by Joan Marcus)

Obie-winning book writer Kyle Jarrow (The Wildness, A Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientology Pageant) tosses in a plethora of puns and looming darkness, never passing up the chance for a good laugh, even if it’s aimed at the show itself. “A fry cook is all you’ll ever be. You’re just a simple sponge, boy,” Mr. Krabs says to his employee-of-the-month, SpongeBob, continuing, “And yet somehow you don’t seem to absorb very much.” Later, Squidward tells SpongeBob, “The world is a horrible place filled with fear, suffering, and despair. Also dashed hopes, shattered dreams, broken promises, and abject misery.” But ever the positive trooper, the Aplysina fistularis known as SpongeBob replies, “But it’s our horrible place . . . with the best abject misery.” The narrative breaks down significantly in the second act, but Christopher Gattelli’s (The King and I, War Paint) jubilant choreography keeps everything bouncy, and the music sparkles throughout, with songs written by a diverse superstar lineup that soars far above standard Broadway fare, including David Bowie and Brian Eno, Panic! at the Disco, Yolanda Adams, Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler and Joe Perry, They Might Be Giants, T.I., Lady Antebellum, John Legend, the Plain White T’s, Cyndi Lauper and Rob Hyman, Sara Bareilles, Jonathan Coulton, and the Flaming Lips. Show up early to get a good look at all the crazy items around the theater — what’s with all the 1980s boomboxes? — and to get in the mood as the small band plays tropical music. Landau (Big Love, Old Hats) keeps everyone on their toes — watch out as some characters go running up and down the aisles — and smiling for more than two hours. And just to reiterate, the show is not aimed only at kids; the night we went, there were not that many children at all, the audience peppered instead with grown-ups of all ages, rolling around laughing in their seats. Like the Nickelodeon show, the Broadway musical is downright silly, but as Patrick says, “There’s nothing more fun than mindless entertainment.” Amen to that.

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