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jaydarcy
17th May 2023

Review: The SpongeBob Musical

The SpongeBob Musical, starring Tom Read Wilson, Divina de Campo, and Hannah Lowther, is better than anyone could possibly predict!
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Review: The SpongeBob Musical
The company. Photo: Mark Senior

I know what you’re thinking. I thought the same. What the actual jellyfish? But, trust me, it works. And if you don’t want to take my word for it, take the words of scores of Broadway critics, who tend to take the title “critic” a little to literally and seem determined to butcher shows… Even they love SpongeBob!

In case, like Patrick Starfish, you’ve been living under a rock, SpongeBob SquarePants is an animated television series about an anthropomorphic sponge who lives in a pineapple under the sea. As a child, it’s like watching a funky fairy tale; as an adult, it’s like an acid trip. It’s perfection.

Whilst there have been many successful musicals based on animated films, I’m struggling to think of any others based on animated television series. Turning SpongeBob intro a stage musical was a risk – but it absolutely paid off.

The stage musical follows SpongeBob (Lewis Cornay, who is perfectly cast) as he attempts to thwart the eruption of an underground volcano.

The musical is child-like, farcical and outright silly, but it is also surprisingly sociopolitical. The musical satirises recent events, such as the coronavirus pandemic, with signs outright ripping off “stay home / protect the NHS / save lives”.

The musical also explores people’s indifference to (or outright denial of) crises, e.g. climate change. It tackles a range of issues, including prejudice and xenophobia (Sandy, a scientist squirrel who now lives under the sea, is blamed for the impending natural disaster).

Indeed, at the end of the musical, SpongeBob criticises the citizens of Bikini Bottom for their irrational reactions to impending doom. People fall into one of several categories; they look for someone to blame, follow, exploit, or control. The “stronger together” message is a bit cheesy but it’s true – and, given the target audience (children, though some of us excited adults forgot that!), it is an important message.

The creatives must be applauded for tackling some really serious issues in a light-hearted but not reductive way. They have also done a wonderful job of creating something that both adults and children will enjoy; there were lots of families there but also groups of adult friends – and everybody was up on their feet by the end, dancing to the television series’ iconic theme tune.

The musical is radical with its score; each song is written by a different person, most of them uber successful artists, from Cyndi Lauper to the recently disbanded Panic! At The Disco. The songs all have a unique flavour but they also compliment each other; it’s as if the have all been written by the same person. All of the key players get at least one big number, with Squidward’s ‘I’m Not a Loser’ being the best number of the show; it’s a jazzy Broadway bonanza!

The musical is perfectly cast. The actors have magically brought the iconic characters to life but they also succeed in putting their own spins on the characters.

The cast is led by the tantalising Tom Read Wilson (Celebs Go Dating), who is sharing the role of anti-hero Squidward with Gareth Gates. Wilson succeeds in making the cringe-inducing Squidward sympathetic and loveable.

Drag Race UK legend Divina de Campo, who we reviewed in Hedwig and at Drag Fest UK last year, is utterly fabulous as the villainous Plankton, whilst TikTok star Hannah Lowther is perfectly cast as Karen Plankton – though the role is a little underwritten; she deserves more stage time.

The set is spectacular, the costumes are terrific, and the production makes great use of technology.

Speaking of technology – there were a few tech difficulties. The show started 20 minutes late which led to me almost missing my bus back to Burnley; I would have had to wait an hour for the next one! There were some sound problems at first, and there were some issues with the microphones (especially Sandy’s) throughout the show. Sometimes Chrissie Bhima would speak and her mic was not yet on; this happened throughout the entire show, right until the very end.

Rock of Ages similarly had a late start and tech difficulties that led to the cast having to leave the stage but at least SpongeBob is an excellent show – that makes up for it!

If you want to watch something fresh and funny, this is the musical for you. If not, The King and I is touring again…

 

The SpongeBob Musical runs at Opera House Manchester from May 16 to 21 and tours the UK until early September.

Please note: Divina de Campo will perform in all cities whilst Gareth Gates and Tom Read Wilson will alternate the role of Squidward. Currently, neither actor is set to appear in the last three cities.

Jay Darcy

Jay Darcy

Theatre Editor. Instagram & Twitter: @jaydarcy7. Email: [email protected].

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