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Chopin Theatre’s “The SpongeBob Musical” Makes a Medium-Sized Splash

Associate Arts Editor Miki Mukawa spends an evening in a pineapple under the sea.
Kokandy%E2%80%99s+The+SpongeBob+Musical%2C+from+the+very+beginning%2C+did+an+excellent+job+of+making+it+feel+as+though+the+audience+had+been+dropped+into+the+middle+of+a+fantastical+underwater+world.
Evan Hanover
Kokandy’s “The SpongeBob Musical,” from the very beginning, did an excellent job of making it feel as though the audience had been dropped into the middle of a fantastical underwater world.

“How was your weekend?” I was asked by several people the Monday after I went to see Chopin Theatre’s The SpongeBob Musical. Upon my reply that I’d gone to see the show on Friday, July 7, I was met with the unanimous reaction: “Huh?”

Which is fair. What could one expect out of a SpongeBob SquarePants musical? Would the actors be wearing square- and star-shaped suits? Would the plot be based on an existing SpongeBob episode?

I walked into Chopin Theatre that Friday completely blind to what I was going to be seeing—in more ways than one. As a child, I was barred from watching SpongeBob and his friends’ adventures in Bikini Bottom. My parents had, probably, watched five minutes of the show with my five-year-old self and had deemed the show’s sexual innuendos much too vulgar for their daughter.

The theater was rather small and cozy and was lined with large plastic bubbles. The lighting, which illuminated all of the theater’s seats, was set to a deep ocean blue. On stage, a projector screen quietly played clips of SpongeBob. In the far-left-hand corner of the stage, the orchestra played tropical tunes and ocean-inspired sound effects designed by Foley artist Ele Matelan (whose bubble noises and squelches of Squidward’s footsteps throughout the show were a highlight). Around 10 minutes before the show’s official start time, an actor dressed as a pirate shuffled his way to the front of the stage and began quietly conversing with the children in the audience. Kokandy’s The SpongeBob Musical, from the very beginning, did an excellent job of making it feel as though the audience had been dropped into the middle of a fantastical underwater world.

To answer some of the questions posed at the beginning: the actors were not wearing suits (instead, their costumes resembled the basic colors of their corresponding characters from the show), and the plot was not based on an existing episode. Instead, the story revolves around SpongeBob (Frankie Leo Bennett) and his friends’ (Isabel García as Patrick Star, Sarah Patin as Sandy Cheeks) quest to save Bikini Bottom from a volcanic eruption that threatens to destroy their town.

In the first act, the show’s self-awareness was refreshing; it knew that its biggest strength was to lean into the humor and absurdity of its premise. Both the script and songs were witty and elicited laughter from the audience. A palpable, infectious sense of joy radiated from the actors on stage in their energy and bright smiles.

Unfortunately, the second act fell short in comparison to the first. The show’s attempt at self-aware humor started to feel contrived, and it suddenly became clear that it was beginning to run into the problem of its own premise. The show, in the first act, was successful at making the experience enjoyable for all audiences—including adults. But there is only so much one can do to make the story of a sponge living under the sea feel high-stakes. We know that Bikini Bottom is going to be saved, because it would simply be wrong for it not to. And while the show does attempt to weave in a heartfelt message about the power of teamwork and community, it feels specifically targeted toward young children, with not much there for older audience members.

If I were to ask myself again, “What could one expect out of a SpongeBob musical?”, I would say that it’s exactly what you would expect out of a best possible attempt at a musical based on a cartoon show. It’s a bit campy, funny, and entertaining. But it’s also, ultimately, a kids show about a talking sponge, his starfish best friend, and a squirrel in an astronaut suit, with not much else below its aqua-blue surface.

“The SpongeBob Musical” played at the Chopin Theatre through September 3, 2023.

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Miki Mukawa
Miki Mukawa, Deputy Arts Editor, Grey City Reporter
Miki Mukawa is a third-year in the College studying English Language & Literature from Yokohama, Japan. When she's not finding an excuse to catch the latest show or grab some bites for the Arts section, you can find her poring over the hidden meanings behind Taylor Swift lyrics or saving cooking videos on Instagram (that she will, inevitably, never actually use).
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