I tend to say that it's hard to turn a movie into a musical. But I think it's even harder to turn a cartoon into a musical. SpongeBob Squarepants attempts that, bringing it's title character and his friends to life in a new musical.
When I first heard about SpongeBob, the first thing I learned was that they were creating an original story and making it appeal to both fans of the show and people who know nothing about it. I fall into the latter category, knowing practically nothing about the cartoon other than what my friends have told me on occasion.
I was incredibly skeptical about how they would take Bikini Bottom and bring it to Broadway, and my skepticism didn't go away while at the show. Design wise, the production is pretty incredible. They have captured the essence of Bikini Bottom and those who inhabit it, through the insanely colorful set, creative costumes, and overall aesthetic of the production. Tina Landau has also done an incredible directing the production which is not a small one.
Cast wise, it's a very talented cast. Ethan Slater carries the entire show on his back as the titular sponge, and exerts himself both physically and vocally. The rest of the cast play of his energy and spirit, and they all look like they are having an incredible time onstage.
The score was written by many different artists, which conceptually sounds awesome. In execution however, the songs do not go together, making it feel like you're listening to a different production when each songs starts. The have everything from rap to a Broadway tap number, but it doesn't flow in the way a musical's score should. While some songs are good, it's all over the place thematically.
I expected the production to take a bit of a step away from the cartoon, especially since they didn't make the actors look like the cartoon characters. However, the cartoon noises and references abound, becoming almost unnecessary and over the top at times.
SpongeBob Squarepants is truly a novelty show. It has mass appeal because of the material and while it is creative with an incredibly talented cast, notably Gavin Lee in the role of Squidward and Jai’len Christine Li Josey in the role of Pearl, as well as Lilli Cooper in the role of Sandy. But the music is it's soft point, weakening it overall, as well as the lack of distinction between whether it wants to be part of the cartoon, or stand on its own.