Review by Emily Smith
SpongeBob the Musical is playing at the Regal Theatre, and the sense of absurdity and fun that carries the show is evident on stage straight away in the Sound Bar where Foley Artist Michael Baker uses percussion instruments and squeaky toys to create the sound effects of the whole show. Each characters’ unique footsteps are the bulk of his work, and such attention to detail (with meticulous timing) makes even a short stroll across the stage from the titular sponge a giggle-inducing performance.
At just over two hours the show is quite long for the many children in the audience, who I noticed getting antsy towards the 10pm finish, but I heard lots of singing along and interaction with characters from the entranced kids.
Leading the joyful experience was the Hawaiian shirt-clad band who were on top form, with spot-on timing and a hearty shout of “aye aye, captain!” when called upon. The songs themselves were fun but not as catchy as I would have expected from a children’s musical. I always think the mark of a well-written musical is how hard it is to dislodge the songs from my head on the drive home, and especially considering the high-profile songwriters I expected some catchier tunes, but I think it’s safe to say none of the SpongeBob songs are going to be replacing ‘Let It Go’ in your children’s repertoire.
Any fault for the lack of earworms in the show, however, was not down to the performers, who put every ounce of energy they had into every number. SpongeBob (Joshua Hollander) never let that incessantly cheery smile drop, even for a second, and he showed off incredibly spongey contortion skills when climbing up Mount Humongous (a constantly spinning ladder-like piece of playground equipment) and singing all the while. His sidekicks Patrick Star and Sandy Cheeks (Riley Merigan and Taylor Jade) also brought a ferocious energy to the stage along with some top-notch vocals. The three heroes had great comedic chemistry and put on a stellar performance, but I have to admit that my heart has been turned to the dark side during my visit to Bikini Bottom.
Aramis Martino stole the show as Sheldon J. Plankton, alongside his sassy (dare I say Lady Macbeth-esque?) wife, Karen the Computer (Helen Carey). The pair bickered and flirted while concocting ludicrous schemes and were responsible for every adult joke in the show, appreciated by all the parents around me. Plankton’s musical number was by far the best song in the show, accompanied by a surprisingly impressive rap and a hip-hop dance that had the little boy in front of me bopping in his seat, even after insisting before the curtain opened that he “didn’t like SpongeBob.”
I cannot mention the dancing without bringing up the proudest moment of Mr Squidward Q. Tentacles’ life, his mightily entertaining homage to the Great American Songbook, a tap number called ‘I’m Not A Loser.’ Jason Nettle as Squidward absolutely nailed that nasal voice and sense of disdain for all his fellow fish. The costume, too, deserves its own applause: an extra set of legs (I should say tentacles) on the back that had working knees and matching aquamarine trousers. Costume designers Meg Andrichem-Considine and Pauline Nicholls, with assistant Lily Stewart have hit it out of the reef with Squidward’s extra tentacles that work perfectly in sync with his steps. Their presence was especially funny during the aforementioned tap dance, and in fact, every costume, along with the make-up and wigs, were brilliant to see.
Describing the plethora of dazzling costumes on the stage would not do justice to their Dadaist sense of nonsense and lawlessness. Now seems an appropriate time to quote my high school art history text book, which explains how Dadaists, a group of visual artists and writers in the early 20th century, “proclaimed that all received moral, political and aesthetic beliefs had been destroyed by the war. They advocated a destructive, irreverent and liberating approach to art” (found in …isms: Understanding Art by Stephen Little). The original cartoon embraced this irreverence to create absurdity as entertainment, and the visuals of the show echo the freedom of form that this allows. A lot of this would be borne from the necessity of making a fish costume that an actor can dance in, and that subversion of expectations is what elevates the show from one that panders to small children’s enjoyment of bright colours, to something adults can be in awe of too.
In fact, having mentioned the Dadaists’ dismissal of pre-war morals, I now see a connection to the disaster-movie plot, where an impending apocalypse causes many of the residents of Bikini Bottom to search for someone to blame, and easily land on the only member of their community who doesn’t fit in to their aquatic environment: Sandy the Squirrel. The lesson is a little ham-handed and lacks the depth of a more extensive exploration into innate prejudices, but it has to be said that SpongeBob the Musical does not shy away from depicting xenophobia and its consequences. That’s not how I was expecting this review to go, either.
SpongeBob the Musical is a fun, wacky show and every member of the cast, crew, and band bring their A-Game to create a high-quality performance that kids and adults will enjoy. It finishes at the Regal Theatre on the 30th October.