30 August 2023
No specific knowledge of the hugely popular cartoon ‘SpongeBob SquarePants’ is required to follow the musical, currently on its premiere UK tour; as I have none myself. First appearing on stage in 2016 in Chicago it is a fun entertainment, largely aimed at young people, but with many aspects for all to appreciate. It does, however, have a number of shortcomings.
SpongeBob, is just that, a sponge, who lives in the ocean with all manner of other marine life in an area called Bikini Bottom. One day they find out that a volcano is due to erupt and it will destroy their ‘world’ so the hunt is on for a means to save their lives and homes – they need a hero! The story plays out with nods to ecological matters – plastic cups, bottles and rubber gloves appear in the set and costumes – and the theme of friendship is never far from the fore.
The SpongeBob Musical is a feast for the eyes; some of the most inventive, colourful and fun costume designs I have seen in recent years. There is no attempt to slavishly recreate the cartoon; there are suggestions and adaptations which do the job, though if you are unacquainted with the original designs, then you might struggle to work out what the characters represent. But it isn’t an issue really. Likewise the set designs are representative and with a cartoony feel – they work well.
Sound effects are performed by cast members to the side of the stage; it’s a great visual and a bit of fun, especially for youngsters. Lighting is big and brash and sound is clear and sharp.
The music is a compilation of songs written by the likes of John Legend, Cyndi Lauper and Sara Bareilles; whether this helps the show or not I am not sure, none are especially memorable, but they are fun enough.
Characterisations are broad, but enormously fun and the cast throw themselves into the show with great vigour. Lewis Cornay has garnered much praise for his performance as SpongeBob and he is very good; likeable and with a strong voice. Richard J Hunt as Patrick Starr (the starfish) is also blessed vocally and patently has fun. Divina de Campo and Blair Anderson play the warring shop owners nicely and there is excellent work from Eloise Davies as Sandy Cheeks. TV presenter Richard Arnold offers a rather fun tongue-in-cheek version of himself as an on-screen news reader. Rather stealing the show is Tom Read Wilson as the grumpy Squidward Q Tentacles, complete with all four legs – the arc of his story is probably the best in the show and his showbiz number in the second act is a delight.
The main issue with the show is that it is too long; too many songs which are interrupted by too little plot. I realise the target audience doesn’t require too detailed a storyline, but with a running time well in excess of two hours it is overindulgent. I also realise Patchy the Pirate is part of the original TV show, but his interventions in the show are awkward and not very funny, plus his song at the start of the second half holds up the action and is completely unnecessary. The show probably outstays its welcome by about half an hour; with judicious pruning it would be funnier, snappier and more entertaining.
Maybe the environmental concerns could be made more of, without making it a campaigning piece, it seems like an opportunity missed.
All that being said, the director, Tara Overfield Wilkinson, moves the action along with as much pace as allowable and Fabian Aloise’s choreography is refreshingly original. I have mentioned the design and Steve Howell (set) and Sarah Mercadé (costume) deserve all the plaudits they have received.
A fun show, but needs pruning.
Cast & Creatives
Lewis Cornay – SpongeBob SquarePants
Tom Read Wilson – Squidward Q Tentacles
Divina De Campo – Sheldon J Plankton
Richard J Hunt – Patrick Starr
Eloise Davies – Sandy Cheeks
Sarah Freer – Pearl Krabs
Theo Reece – Larry the Lobster
Blair Anderson – Eugene Krabs
Rhys Batten – Old Man Jenkins
Rebecca Lisewski – Mayor
Mrs Puff – Farirayi Garaba
Hannah Lowther – Karen the Computer
Richard Arnold – Perch Perkins
Writer – Kyle Jarrow
Director – Tara Overfield Wilkinson
Musical Supervisor – Mark Crossland
Set Designer – Steve Howell
Costume Designer – Sarah Mercadé
Lighting and Video Designer – Ben Bull
Sound Designer – Ben Harrison
Musical Director – Marcus Carter-Adams