With The Lion King celebrating 20 years on Broadway this year, Disney has long since proven that it’s possible to translate animation to the stage. Now, Nickelodeon aims to capture the same magic with one of the network’s most beloved series splashing onto Broadway on Dec. 4.
Spongebob Squarepants: The Musical confronts the residents of Bikini Bottom with their greatest threat yet: an erupting volcano. Will the gang of underwater misfits, led by a determined yellow sponge, save the day? Definitely, but the biggest question is: Can a beloved children’s cartoon translate into a musical for all ages?
We asked one of the people who knows best, the show’s star(fish) Danny Skinner.
Everyone lives in Bikini Bottom
Just because they’re animated, doesn’t mean these characters don’t carry the necessary gravitas for Broadway.
Skinner, who originated the role of Patrick Star in Chicago before making his Broadway debut this winter, calls the opportunity to bring him to life onstage a “dream come true.” Long before Skinner first auditioned for the show (more than five years ago), Patrick had already played a meaningful part in his childhood.
“I remember watching it on my parents’ bed and thinking, ‘Oh my god, that’s a character who looks like me!’” he recalls. “You know, he’s a little bigger, and as a kid it’s so important to find representation of yourself on TV.”
Audiences will see right away that they aren’t getting a literal replica of the cartoon when the characters step onstage looking like humans, rather than square- or star-shaped sea creatures (and the odd squirrel).
And that’s not where the differences end. “There’s what director Tina Landau calls ‘Spongebob DNA,’” Skinner says. “[The cast] watched the show together, and she told us we weren’t supposed to be trying to copycat them, their voices, but finding our own Spongebob DNA. So we got to create our own thing.”
To help convey Patrick’s signature physicality without a giant pink foam suit, Skinner looked to the legends of physical comedy: “I turned to a lot of slapstick performers like Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, Charlie Chaplin.”
Interpretive costumes are aided by a playful set (all by David Zinn) that invites audiences to imagine an underwater world, rather than literally recreating Bikini Bottom. “There’s a lot of stage magic, a lot of suggestion,” says Skinner.
The music of our moment
Instead of finding one composer to craft the sound of life under the sea, Spongebob Squarepants’ score brings together a roster of Grammy winners to amplify every magical moment of the story with original songs created just for the show.
Contributors include Aerosmith, John Legend, Cyndi Lauper, The Flaming Lips, Panic at the Disco! and even David Bowie.
“We got some of the best artists in the business to write the music. Each one was so distinctly their own, but they all work together,” Skinner says, crediting the seamless arrangements to music director Tom Kitt. “The show is constantly surprising.”
Save us, Spongebob
Let’s be real — life here on dry land isn’t amazing right now. The arrival of the Spongebob gang’s bubbly feel-good story about coming together to save the world couldn’t be a better diversion — and maybe even inspiration? — for the real world.
“We are in a climate where the world is falling apart, but Spongebob says that we get to choose how we respond in every moment, with our friends and community,” says Skinner. “He is the eternal optimist. It’s a great message and a magical show.”
Spongebob Squarepants: The Musical officially begins its open-ended run on Dec. 4 at the Palace Theatre, 1564 Broadway. Tickets are $49-$204, available now at spongebobbroadway.com.