SpongeBob silliness

The SpongeBob Musical (Phoenix Ensemble)

Pavilion Theatre

August 5 – 27

Those with even just passing familiarity with the iconic Nickelodeon, animated tv series “SpongeBob SquarePants”, created by marine science educator and animator Stephen Hillenburg, should have some idea of what to expect from its 2017 musical adaptation. As expected, from its ‘Bikini Bottom Day’ opening number, which sees SpongeBob (Clark Kent Bryon-Moss) awakening to welcome the day with his pet sea snail Gary, it’s all energetic colour, movement and pool noodle kelp silliness.

The dynamic and critically acclaimed stage musical (with 12 Tony Award nominations) sees SpongeBob amongst the motley inhabitants of the fictional benthic underwater Pacific Ocean city of Bikini Bottom (beneath the real-life coral reef Bikini Atoll) face the total annihilation of their world, thanks to threatened eruption of the inconveniently located volcanic Mount Humongous. SpongeBob, his bestie Patrick Star (Harley Roy) and his squirrel friend, Sandy Cheeks (Ebony Banks) devise a scheme to keep it from erupting. But the supervillain Sheldon J Plankton (Joshua Moore) has other plans. As chaos and corruption ensure under the doomsday clock’s countdown, lives hang in the balance until a most unexpected hero rises up with a message about the life-saving power of optimism!

Kyle Jarrow’s book allows for the apocalyptic story to be fleshed out in a figurative way with social satire though science deniers, ineffectual politicians, an alarmist journalist and corrupt business people. This never detracts from the Phoenix Ensemble production’s essential sensibility and vibrant aesthetic. There is always something interesting to look at. Props are incredibly creative, Justin Tubb-Hearne’s costume design works with hairstyling and make-up to give each character a unique sea creature look and each character / group of characters (a school of sardines for example) has distinct physicality.

Even with all of its allegorical inclusions, the musical’s optimistic message remains at the forefront, with Act One’s closing number, ‘Tomorrow Is’, written by The Flaming Lips, reminding of the value of a moment. With an original pop and rock-infused score by a long list of legendary songwriters, including Cyndi Lauper, Panic! At the Disco and Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith, the show is full of catchy musical motifs and a selection of original songs from across a range of musical styles. ‘BFF’, in which SpongeBob attempts to cheer up an upset Patrick by reiterating that they are best friends forever, is clearly country in in sensibility and ‘Super Sea Star Savior’ in a gospel-tinged chronicle (complete with tambourines) of Patrick’s appointment as cult leader to worshiping sardines, believing him to their saviour from the volcano. ‘When the Going Gets Tough’ in which the villainous Sheldon tries to convince the citizens to enter an escape pod as cover-up for he and his wife Karen’s (Kristen Barros) secret scheme to hypnotise citizens into liking what is served at their Chum Bucket restaurant, features an impressive speed rap. However, while in and of themselves, these numbers are all good, the eclecticism makes for a lack of musical cohesion overall.

Though momentum lags a little, Act Two gives the best vocal performances. Banks’ voice is strong in Sandy’s encouragement of SpongeBob to use karate knowledge to conquer climbing the volcano in ‘Chop to the Top’ and Roy’s voice is gently divine in John Legend’s ‘(I Guess I) Miss You’, in which he voices how nothing feels quite right without SpongeBob, corny lyrics and all.

Bryon Moss shows commendable commitment to the demanding role of the musical’s perky yellow sponge everyman protagonist, gleeful in his always-grinning over-the-top reactions and bouncing about in exhausting eternal optimism. Our sympathies, however, are with Zach Price’s Squidward Q Tentacles, downtrodden in his depression as the loser nobody likes he becomes a clear audience favourite, especially when his dream of performing is finalised realised in a colourful ensemble tap number of magenta Muppet-esque sea anemones.

Banks is solid as scapegoated squirrel Sandy, the Texas scientist and karate expert (because yes, there’s a squirrel under the sea) and Roy is wonderful as SpongeBob’s dim but brawny best friend Patrick whose scenes as accidental cult leader saviour to the sardines, give us some of the show’s funniest moments. The standout performances, however, come from Moore and Barros as evil genius Sheldon and his digital wife Karen the Computer. They complement each other well, not only in costumes layered in detail, but in their appealing chemistry and interplay as he gleefully gloats about his plans for domination. Moore’s comic performance is excellent, full of outrageous physical expressions and a mania that makes all eyes draw to him in his every scene.

Under Benjamin Tubb-Hearne’s detailed direction, Phoenix Ensemble’s “The SpongeBob Musical” is good old-fashioned fun. Kids in the audience love the pre-show and interval-end interaction from Patchy the Pirate, SpongeBob’s number one fan and it is clear that Nicholas Joy is having a great time in the role. Indeed, there is an infectious spirit of fun conveyed from the buoyancy of the whole cast, especially in interaction with creative props, meaning that it works for all ages. The musical’s narrative may be weak and the running time a little longer than it need be, but experience of its moments is jubilant and ladies, gentle-fish and younger folk alike, whether familiar with the beloved animated series or otherwise, will surely appreciate the vibrant production both in terms of its heartfelt humanity and theatricality alike.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s