Director Tina Landau and musical supervisor Tom Kitt’s stage adaptation, based on a book by Kyle Jarrow (A Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientology Pageant), is so far most notable for its sonic elements. Featuring original songs from They Might Be Giants, The Flaming Lips, John Legend, Cyndi Lauper, The Dirty Projectors, Lady Antebellum, Panic! At the Disco, Plain White T’s, T.I., and Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler and Joe Perry — with an additional song from David Bowie and lyrics by Jonathan Coulton — The SpongeBob Musical’s substantial star power hails more from the ranks of pop music than animation proper.
That said, Parmaount’s animated/live-action hybrid The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water ($311 million global gross) proved this year that, after nine seasons on television, Nickelodeon’s dumb but sweet star is still capable of successfully swimming outside of his cartoon environs.
“I was drawn to this project not only for its wild theatrical possibility, but also because I felt SpongeBob, at its core, is a layered and hilarious ensemble comedy,” said Landau, a vet of Chicago’s esteemed Steppenwolf Theatre Company. “SpongeBob himself is of course its center and beating heart — the eternal innocent in a sea of cynics. He’s also the classic underdog hero, and so our production sets him on a hero’s journey with real stakes, all the while retaining the show’s trippy humor and irreverence.”
“We’re taking our leads from the TV show but this is an original story, with an original design approach, and original songs written just for the occasion by an amazing array of songwriters,” Landau added. “We will present the world of Bikini Bottom and its characters in a whole new way that can only be achieved in the live medium of the theater. We’re bringing the show’s fabled characters to life through actors — not prosthetics or costumes that hide them — and we’re deploying some unconventional stage craft that will prove that anything can happen in Bikini Bottom.”
The musical’s design team includes scenic and costume design by David Zinn, lighting design by Kevin Adams, projection design by Peter Nigrini, and sound design by Walter Trarbach.
SpongeBob’s parent company, Viacom, which has been struggling creatively as of late, is launching The SpongeBob Musical presumably in an attempt to increase the show and character’s reach. However, given that SpongeBob SquarePants has been the most-watched animated program with kids for more than 13 consecutive years, per Nickelodeon’s own figures, it can be argued that both the character and his show have little left to reach.
“SpongeBob long ago transcended the TV screen to become a pop culture icon inspiring everyone from kids and families to artists and musicians, pro athletes, movie stars, fashion designers, social media mavens and even the President,” said Viacom kids and family group president, Cyma Zarghami. “This character has achieved a level of global popularity that we could never have imagined, and bringing him to Broadway is a way to give him a new platform, literally, to reach audiences of all ages who are looking for an engaging, funny and innovative musical theater experience.”
The SpongeBob Musical’s outreach may prove that the television show, Viacom’s most widely distributed property in company history, still has more life in its sea legs. But we won’t know for a while yet if it succeeds like The Lion King and Aladdin, or flops like Shrek and Fred and Barney.
For Chicago sponge aficionados, tickets for groups of 10 or more for The SpongeBob Musical’s debut, as part of the Broadway In Chicago series, are on sale now. Individual tickets will become available for purchase in October.