SpongeBob SquarePants (the cartoon) might be pretty far down on your list a parent-approved media. But SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical just made it to the top of mine. Talented actors, a solid storyline, and insanely imaginative sets—and a complete lack of hokeyness—made this performance a family Broadway standout. You won't find oversized sponge or starfish costumes, but the talent seamlessly translated the characters (none of whom are human) to the stage and easily transported the audience to a quirky and much-loved Bikini Bottom.
Read our review for a sense of what to expect from this infectious performance, or check out our complete Theater Guide for NYC Kids for many more options.
See Danny Skinner as Patrick Star, Ethan Slater as SpongeBob Squarepants and Lilli Cooper as Sandy Cheeks.
SpongeBob SquarePants the musical is the genius of director Tina Landau, book by Kyle Jarrow, musical supervisor Tom Kitt, choreographer Christopher Gattelli. The show could have taken a page from the cartoon series, which started in 1999 and is still in production today, by highlighting the lighthearted, random life of its main character. Instead, Landau wove a multilayered story—without losing Bikini Bottom kookiness. The gist: A erupting volcano threatens to destroy the undersea village, and all of its inhabitants need to make a plan. Despite utter mayhem, SpongeBob (Ethan Slater), Patrick Star (Danny Skinner), and Sandy Cheeks (Lilli Cooper) stick to a plan to detonate the natural disaster, while antagonist Sheldon Plankton (Wesley Taylor) takes advantage of the mass panic and tries to hypnotize them in bulk.
There are subplots within, like the town's mistrust of a mammal (squirrel Sandy Cheeks) amongst them, SpongeBob's battle to be taken seriously, and Squidward's self-esteem and confidence in who he is. The absolutely stellar cast took the normally surface-level characters to a place we can all relate, all with an uncanny resemblance to them (sans costumes). As impressed as my 10-year-old daughter was of the set, Day-Glo-colored costumes, and acrobats, she was just as mesmerized by the interactions between the actors and heart each brought to the stage.
Musical supervisor Kitt delivered on his end with songs by some of the biggest rock stars of all time—including the late David Bowie. You've probably heard about the Grammy-caliber score, and aside from big names, the music itself is super catchy and moves the storyline perfectly. SpongeBob enlisted a slew of rock and roll icons to pen one number each, including Steven Tyler and Joe Perry from Aerosmith, Sara Bareilles, The Flaming Lips, Lady Antebellum, Cyndi Lauper, John Legend, Panic! At the Disco, They Might Be Giants, and Bowie. The small band flanking the stage (dressed in their best Hawaiian and surf gear) entertained the audience before and during the show. And choreographer Gattelli's moves are quick and fun and pull it all together nicely.
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Wesley Taylor as Sheldon Plankton and company in the undersea world.
Landau and her design team were equally impressive in the set department, using low-tech stagecraft to create this gorgeous undersea world: hundreds of pool noodles, oversized fishing hooks, balloons, and beach balls were used floor to ceiling to give off a magical aquatic feel.
There are some intense moments on stage, e.g., when the news breaks that a volcano eruption is imminent. There's a follow-up song that's pretty bleak. Although there was a range of ages on the audience, I wonder if my 5-year-old would have been able to handle it. (Of note: All audience members require a ticket, and the recommended minimum age is 5. No children under 4 are allowed in the theater.) Overall, though, the themes of determination and positivity, sticking to a plan, and the importance of friendship are delivered in the most perfect package on this stage. It's a can't-miss.
If you're looking to make an evening out of your Times Square visit, consider some of the nearby family-friendly restaurants. You can go budget or fancy; it's all right there. We were invited to enjoy a fabulous pre-theater meal by the team at Charlie Palmer in the Knickerbocker Hotel (a three-course meal is $45/person). Even though it was kid-friendly, my daughter thought it was so fancy and we both had a great time.
SpongeBob SquarePants runs at the Palace Theatre, 1564 Broadway, through September 2. It opened in December 2017. Tickets start at $49, but check BroadwayBox and other theater sites for discounts.
Top photo: The cast of SpongeBob SquarePants. All images courtesy of the production