Musical Review: ‘The SpongeBob Musical’

CHICAGOYou don’t have to be a kid to enjoy “The SpongeBob Musical,” but it helps a lot if you’re young at heart. After all, this show, which just opened at The Chopin Studio Theatre in Chicago, is based on an animated cartoon character that has appealed to children enthralled by the humorous zaniness and madcap adventures of a sea sponge and his aquatic friends.  

Indeed, during the musical, presented by Kokandy Productions, an 11-year old youngster sitting next to me explained that she loves SpongeBob because he makes her laugh. After watching this revival, I had to agree with her. 

"The SpongeBob Musical"
SpongeBob (Frankie Leo Bennett, front center) and friends come up with a plan to save Bikini Bottom, in “The SpongeBob Musical.” (Evan Hanover)

Based on the TV series by Stephen Hillenburg and Kyle Jarrow’s book, conceived by Tina Landau, and directed by JD Caudill, “The SpongeBob Musical” is a hoot of hilarity as it comes to wonderful life in this stage presentation. But the show isn’t just full of laughs. It also satirizes some of the craziness of our contemporary world. It skewers power-hungry bureaucrats; bumbling politicians; weird rock stars; and venerated spiritual leaders. Moreover, it offers some positive life lessons: Anyone can succeed if they are determined; you need other people to accomplish your goals; and that differences among us should be ignored in favor of holding onto our shared values. 

The show centers on a day-of-reckoning device. It begins in the sea world of Bikini Bottom, where we soon learn that the city is in danger of immediate annihilation by the approaching eruption of a volcano, aptly named Mount Humongous.

“The SpongeBob Musical.”
(L–R) SpongeBob (Frankie Leo Bennett), Sandy Cheeks (Sarah Patin), and Patrick Star (Isabel Cecilia García), in “The SpongeBob Musical.” (Evan Hanover)

Of course, SpongeBob is the hero who is determined to save the city, and who is assisted by his fellow oceanic buddies. The eternally optimistic SpongeBob is perfectly portrayed by adorable Frankie Leo Bennett, and is assisted by his friends Sandy Cheeks (nice delivery by Sarah Patin) and Patrick Star (good portrayal by Isabel Cecilia García) to come up with a plan to save Bikini Bottom from the disaster predicted to occur in seven minutes. That’s where the cartoonish aspects of the show really kick in since there’s no way—in the real world—that their plan would work.

One of the highlights of the loony musical is the mayor of the town, played by Connar Brown, who immediately forms a focus group to look into the approaching disaster. That’s an insightful moment that makes fun of the ineffectual and wasteful way the government works. 

Besides its end-of-the-world plot, the scenes feature great choreography by Jenna Schoppe and wonderful musical direction by Bryan McCaffrey. While there are upbeat songs such as Cyndi Lauper’s “Hero Is My Middle Name,” Yolanda Adams’s “Super Star Savior,” and the spirited second-act opener Sara Bareilles’s “Poor Pirates,” the showstopper is Quinn Rigg as Squidward Q. Tentacles doing “I’m Not a Loser.”

“The SpongeBob Musical.”
(L–R) SpongeBob (Frankie Leo Bennett), Sandy Cheeks (Sarah Patin), Bikini Bottom Mayor (Connar Brown), and Patrick Star (Isabel Cecilia García), in “The SpongeBob Musical.” (Evan Hanover)

The technical talent in this cute presentation creates a humorous and cartoonish underwater fantasy setting. Jakob Abderhalden provides the wild and wacky costuming; Jonathan Berg-Einhorn creates a comic scenic design in which Bikini Bottom is enveloped by an ocean of charming sea creatures while sea-life characters are projected on shower-curtain screens that hang at the edge of the stage; and the combination of G. “Max” Maxin IV flash lighting effects and Mike Patrick’s sound design terrify with the earth-shaking rumble of a volcano ready to erupt. 

This is a high-octane, spirited production in which the ensemble works very hard to create a joyous experience for its audience. 

That said, the show could use some pruning. That seven minutes in which SpongeBob and the Bikini-Bottom citizens are supposed to work on figuring out how to stop the approaching volcanic explosion ends up being 2 hours and 20 minutes long. Not all kids have that kind of attention span, but for the urchins that do, this musical offers a great deal more fun and entertainment that one might expect from a simple yellow sponge.

‘The SpongeBob Musical’
The Chopin Studio Theatre
1543 W. Division St., Chicago
Runs: 2 hours, 20 minutes
Closes: Sept. 3, 2023

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