Book: Kyle Jarrow
Original Music: Tom Kitt
Original Lyrics: Jonathan Coulton
Director: Tara Overfield Wilkinson
‘Spongebob Squarepants’ might not be just a simple sponge, but this is a somewhat simple musical. A star-studded cast, diverse musical numbers, and elaborate set design really give this production a ton of potential but it does feel undercooked in parts.
Bikini Bottom has escaped its roots at the depths of the seabed and crawled its way through the M6 traffic to arrive in Birmingham in time for its touring journey across the country. Having already began its tour in Southampton, The Spongebob Musicalintends to capture the imagination of audiences up and down the country between now and September following its Broadway debut back in 2016.
This production has faultless energy and charisma which erupts from the start with a lively opening number Bikini Bottom Day. All is bubbling away quite smoothly until they discover a volcano which threatens to wipe out Spongebob and his friends for eternity – the term friends is used loosely as this musical captures the same character relationships that we see on TV. Spongebob’s neighbourly antics with Patrick Star bring lots of smiles and giggles with a heart-warming song between the two appropriately named BFF. Divina De Campo is in the role of the intimidating and unexpectedly tall Plankton, ably supported by Hannah Lowther as Karen the Computer who brings infectious energy in multiple roles. More could have been made of the relationship between Spongebob and Squidward as this feels largely ignored for much of the production. Gareth Gates has the responsibility of tap dancing with four legs as his character tries to find his lost hope with armageddon looming on the horizon.
As a spoiler, the musical version of this classic 90s cartoon does not involve any square pants, or indeed the shape of a six-foot sponge big enough to clean up a tea party in Wonderland. It is a relief to say so as this allows the audience to focus on the musical talents of the lead sponge himself (Lewis Cornay) who delivers a solid performance which is recognisable and has a comforting familiarity from the original cartoon. This is arguably important as children and those adults looking for some nostalgia need something to hang on to as a two-and-a-half-hour musical is a long way from Bikini Bottom when compared to the short, snappy episodes in the TV series.
These short, snappy episodes are perhaps one of the reasons the Nickelodeon cartoon has been so successful and continues to run to this day. A musical of this length requires a storyline which captures the imagination of young children while simultaneously stimulating the minds of their parents and other adults. Unfortunately, the plot wrestles between both with no winner ever being declared. The storyline is too simplistic with the ending entirely predictable from the beginning. There are familiar references to the cartoon along with the occasional witty jokes to appease the adults in the room.
Musical numbers are contributed by a diverse range of artists from Cyndi Lauper to Panic at the Disco. While some songs feel shoehorned in and need a little longer in the oven, the vocal talents of the cast are clear for all to see and hear. One song stands out in particular as being exceptionally strong: Not Just a Simple Sponge. This song has a simple name, but it is powerful and emotional. It is complemented well with a choreographed light show made of sponges which is spectacular to watch. Despite a diverse range of original songs, there is – of course – time for a few verses from the theme tune to provide a big, uplifting ending to the production.
Although the plot is lacking, the set and costume design is elaborate and a sight to behold. Steve Howell captures the essence of Bikini Bottom to wow the young audience which is further complemented by the costumes of Sarah Mercade. There is an important ecological message associated with the set design too, with recyclables used to illustrate the need to be environmentally friendly. This includes the mountains made of plastic bottles which is inventive, to say the least. The colourful and imaginative design helps to brighten up what is otherwise an average musical. The Spongebob Musicalis enjoyable but in time forgettable.
Runs until: 15 April and on tour