Nearly 20 years ago, the first episode of SpongeBob SquarePants aired on Nickelodeon; since then, the sponge has been an inescapable fixture in children’s lives. It can be hard to nail down just why he’s stuck around for so long. His endless optimism? Zany adventures? The simple fact that the show’s weird and fun, and kids love all things odd?
Nothing courts colorful and wacky as well as Broadway, so it’s natural that SpongeBob would wade its way over to the Nederlander Theater in Midtown. But the show isn’t what you might expect; there are no costumed characters here. SpongeBob succeeds because the production is handled like a Broadway show and not a TV adaptation.
The show starts eagerly; SpongeBob wakes up to another day and starts his usual routine until, suddenly, disaster—a volcano is set to erupt and destroy Bikini Bottom. Though the SpongeBob commercial product world is full of kitsch, the show isn’t. If you sat down and didn’t know anything about the sea sponge, his friends, and his world, you’d think you were just introduced to a musical’s cast of zany characters facing imminent destruction.
And that’s because SpongeBob actually feels like a Broadway musical. The plot, far more mature than the average episode’s, gives space for the soundtrack and direction to be deliberate. The show’s music is written by a variety of musicians, from David Bowie to The Flaming Lips to Cyndi Lauper to They Might Be Giants and even more. But what sounds like it could be a sloppy amalgamation is a masterful orchestration: Credit goes to Tom Kitt (whose previous credits include Next to Normal and American Idiot) for unifying the score seamlessly—this does not feel like a jukebox musical.
Rather, there’s something for everyone: Well-disguised adult jokes tucked in dialogue, a comprehensive set, an intent and brilliantly detailed approach to costuming characters both large and small, and an adherence to Broadway classic hallmarks. Want a tap number? You’ve got it. A song full of interruptions? Yup. Absolutely incredible vocal talent? See: Pearl. A tune about missing someone and another about loving someone? SpongeBob has you covered.
Familiarity with the show is fairly fun, but not necessary. It’s great to catch the odd “my leg!” joke or understand just who Patchy the Pirate is, but the show hands you just enough that you find yourself on the journey either way, with characters who are far from caricatures. The show can be compounded in a single word: Joyous.
If you’re off to see Spongebob Squarepants or one of Broadway’s other multiple offerings, you may want to stop for a pre-theater meal at Charlie Palmer at the Knickerbocker Hotel, where they have a special menu prepped for Broadway attendees to chow down before showtime.