Tag: broadway

SpongeBob Squarepants: The Musical looks and feels like a kindergartner’s acid trip.

This isn’t a bad thing.

The show contains so many side plots that it can be a bit overwhelming to keep up. The main conflict involves the impending eruption of Mount Humongous, which threatens to destroy Bikini Bottom, SpongeBob’s beloved home. That said, the narrative also explores themes of friendship, chiefly between our three main heroes, SpongeBob, Patrick, and Sandy, as well as themes of discrimination and community.

Also, there’s an apocalyptic death cult, a charity concert headlined by a skateboarding, “California bro” version of KISS, and a sub-arc dealing with anti-mammalian hate speech directed at Sandy.

I’ll admit that I was a bit terrified when Nickelodeon first announced that this show was coming to Broadway. So many screen-to-stage musical adaptations have fallen flat in so many different ways: tacky costumes (The Little Mermaid, Shrek: The Musical); confused plotting; musical scores that fall short of the original score (Mary Poppins). Fortunately, SpongeBob steers clear of these pitfalls, for the most part.

For one thing, there’s the psychedelic aesthetic. Shrek: The Musical, this ain’t: David Zinn’s costumes have the headlining actors unencumbered by prostheses, free to move about the stage (and move they do!). SpongeBob is not, in fact, wearing a sponge-suit; rather, his classic square, yellow silhouette is implied through clever, subtle touches: a yellow gingham shirt; plaid brown-and-yellow pants; suspenders; and, of course, his characteristic red tie. Sandy, a squirrel in the original cartoon, wears a white spacesuit-cum-tracksuit that also manages to give off a ‘70s vibe, while Patrick sports Hawaiian prints and hot pink tie-dye—and an extra-volumized pink pompadour to stand in for his starfish cone head. Squidward’s costume proved a particular audience delight: through an ingenious rigging mechanism, he has four feet (tentacles?) that walk, kick, and dance in unison. There was immediate laughter as soon as he walked onstage.

The ensemble, too, sports an abundance of… stuff: traffic cones, baubles, bubbles, blue-and-purple shag rugs rolled into tubes, skirts made of kitchen gloves, hats made of straws, boxing gloves that become crab claws. There’s no shortage of candy-colored eye candy to take in—every time you look more closely at an object, it becomes something else.

The set, also by Zinn, possesses equal whimsy. The proscenium is surrounded by two massive, neon-colored Rube Goldberg machines constructed of what appears to be industrial scaffolding twisted into geometric shapes. As the impending eruption draws near, these machines, through a complex chain reaction that involves, in turn, a bicycle, a rainbow umbrella, and a shopping cart, shoot “boulders” (orange balls) at our Bikini Bottom friends onstage.

That says something about the hodgepodge nature of the rest of the set. It’s a carefully constructed bricolage of children’s playthings (fun noodles that stand in for coral, inflatable pool toys, and boxes), and strings of sparkling streamers and balloons—all painted in varying neon-bright shades. This playfulness is present throughout the musical. Before the curtain goes up, we’re treated to a backdrop reminiscent of the geometric tiling at the bottom of a pool, atop which Peter Nigrini’s projections of schools of fish and a scuba diver delightfully set the undersea mood. In Act II, the aforementioned Mount Humongous is a series of stacked packing boxes extending to the top of the stage. When we finally see the volcano’s mouth, it’s represented through intertwining, orange ladders, evoking a spider’s web. What’s more, the set has so many different components that every scene becomes a surprise: the Krusty Krab is transformed into Mr. Krabs’ private money stash, actors pop out of boxes and industrial tubing that looks like trash onstage, and pieces of the set are flipped over to reveal an entirely different scene.

As for the music, the generic range wasn’t as jarring as I had expected going into a musical that boasts both the Flaming Lips and Panic! At the Disco as composers, among many, many others (14 different artists and musical teams contributed original music to the score, while musical coordinators Michael Keller and Michael Aarons tweaked the arrangements and Tom Kitt added transitional music, assuring that the songs flowed smoothly). “No Control,” which comes just after the Bikini Bottom denizens learn of their forthcoming doom, pulls out all the stops: the stage is washed in bright red lighting, fog fills the stage, lasers shoot off, and a ticking doomsday clock lingers, ominously, on stage left. Throughout, actors move in and out of panicked tableaux that always leave one or two characters spotlighted, highlighting individual, narrative-specific arcs within a song that its original composers, David Bowie and Brian Eno, doubtlessly had never envisioned including in a musical about a cartoon sea sponge.

There’s also a delightful Broadway send-up headlined by Squidward (Gavin Lee) in the middle of Act II, “I’m Not a Loser,” composed by They Might be Giants, replete with Broadway show tunery, pink glittery costumes, a full chorus line, and a four-legged tap number.

The cast’s high energy is what really sells the show. I can only imagine how exhausted Ethan Slater, who plays the titular SpongeBob, must be after every performance; he never stops moving. He has a spring in his step so tightly coiled that it seems like he’s launching himself into the air, he has the flexibility of an underwater invertebrate, and he keeps absolutely perfect timing with every sound effect (he squeaks with every step). During “Simple Sponge: Reprise,” he lithely climbs the latticework leading to Mt. Humongous’s volcanic mouth, and belts out convincingly earnest lines about redemption and friendship while dangling from the set—and, at times, sings while upside-down.

Danny Skinner’s Patrick Star provides a humorous counterpoint to Slater. While SpongeBob is flexible, bouncy, and enthusiastic, Patrick is slower (in both the mental and physical senses). Skinner delivers a number of one-liners with a lack of self-awareness and perfect comedic timing. The third member of the trio, Sandy (Lilli Cooper), provides a more grounded counterpoint. While the script doesn’t offer her as many funny lines, she makes the most of her role as a down-to-earth squirrel trying to reconcile SpongeBob and Patrick’s increasingly strained relationship.

Wesley Taylor’s Plankton at times reminded me of Robbie Rotten from LazyTown—he milks every minute of his stage time, especially in his rapport with his “Computer Wife,” Karen (played by Stephanie Hsu), serving up a playfully conniving villain.

Amongst the ensemble, Pearl Krabs (Jai’len Christine Li Josey) stands out. As Mr. Krabs’ daughter, she plays a whale who can wail: her high notes—which she executes with ineffable ease—add some gospel soul to what is otherwise a very pop-driven musical. And, at only 18 years old, she remains one to look out for.

Overall, it’s clear that Nickelodeon is capitalizing on its intellectual properties with this production, which also represents a challenge to Disney’s dominance in the beloved-film-to-musical adaptation arena (Disney currently has three shows on Broadway: The Lion King, Aladdin, and Frozen). With its first stage production, Nickelodeon now also seeks to capitalize on “family fun for all”-style entertainment. That said, it was apparent throughout the show that it was primarily marketed toward a young audience, despite some adult jokes designed to go over the heads of little ones, as well some humorous references to Broadway classics (the exodus from Bikini Bottom is sung-through with a rendition of “Bikini-tevka” in a nod to Fiddler on the Roof, while the chorus of Mr. Krabs’ ode to his cash, “Daddy Knows Best,” might sound familiar to some Cabaret fans).

“Poor Pirates,” (comp. Sara Bareilles) which opens Act II, is where the musical is most clearly targeted at kids; effectively, this is pre-show and intermission entertainment, meant to ease kids (and other fidgety members of the audience) back to the main event onstage. The intermission song in particular has no relevance to the plot at large, which is essentially about “pirate discrimination.” It seemed like some of the political references here were a bit misplaced (Patchy the Pirate, the number’s lead, yells “Yo ho, we won’t go” at one point). Nonetheless, this “adult kid” found it all very entertaining to watch.

Which brings me to my next point. SpongeBob also plays off of the nostalgia factor for Millennials and Gen-Z kids who grew up watching both the TV cartoon’s original run and subsequent re-runs. With the fast-pacing and the colorful world created onstage, however, parents (and others who didn’t necessarily see the original show) will also be entertained. In this sense, it’s fitting that the curtain call ends with the original cartoon’s theme song, which invoked a chorus of audience members to sing along (and with vigor, I might add).

For all its (many, many) moving parts, the show never drags, nor does it—as I had feared—become grating. Instead, SpongeBob proves a delight, both under the sea and on the Great White Way.

Photo Courtesy of Matthew Murphy


Hal Prince has undoubtedly influenced the world of Broadway, inspiring others to pursue careers in the theatre industry. When entering the theatre, the expectation was that the show, in the process of highlighting Prince’s works, would using meaning

The Prince of Broadway celebrates sixteen shows that the legendary Hal Prince directed, and as the musical states, some of them were flops and some were successes, but all of them, he believed, were creatively daring and meaningful. Thus, it was up to the audience’s discretion for this show if they agreed with his direction of this somewhat-seeming self-serving musical, and with the statement aforementioned, some of the performances were flops and some were major successes.

Tony Yazbeck in Follies. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

For instance, Tony Yazbeck truly shined throughout all numbers he was in, most notably in “The Right Girl” from the musical Follies. His exquisite tap dancing followed by his intense acting sent the crowd roaring for more of his excellence. And that wasn’t the only star performance by Mr. Yazbeck. Even from his first spotlight on the Friedman theatre, one could tell by his poise that he would shine in every performance that he was staged in, success or flop.

However, with many successes, there are usually some flops tagged along. In this showcase of a musical, there were clearly some weaker moments. For example, pretty much every time the eponymous “Hal Prince” would narrate in the transitions between each performance, the delivery fell flat. It was almost to the point of cringeworthy between musicals that we were anticipating when the dialogue would end in exchange with the performances of yesteryear.

Overall, whether you are a Broadway aficionado wanting to relive some of the glories of the Great White Way or a newcomer wanting to delve deeper into the greats of the past, the Prince of Broadway is a wonderful showcase of brilliant performance and a pleasant night at the theatre.

Prince of Broadway is part of the Manhattan Theatre Club which offers a program called “30 Under 30” where anyone under the age of 30 can qualify for $30 rush tickets. Click here for more information.

Christine Ebersole and Patti LuPone. Photo Courtesy of Joan Marcus.

“There are no ugly women, only lazy ones.”

Helena Rubinstein, cosmetics entrepreneur and rival of Elizabeth Arden, repeated that over the course of her career. Beauty was revolutionized by Rubinstein and Arden, but more importantly, they were powerful entrepreneurs in a male-dominated workforce. War Paint, a new musical at the Nederlander Theatre, gives us a glimpse of the day-to-day of the lives of these women and their rivalry.

The set design was beautiful, the costumes were magnificent, and, of course, the two-time Tony Award-winners Patti LuPone (Helena Rubinstein) and Christine Ebersole (Elizabeth Arden) were fantastic, as expected. The musical progresses from the advertised topic, the rivalry of these two beauty entrepreneurs, to a broader reflection on their internal struggles as powerful women. By the end of the musical, drugstore cosmetics lines have devalued the image of timeless beauty, and the two women are forced to reflect on the value and impact of their lives’ work.

While a compelling and moving narrative put to incredible music, the flow of the lyrics was sometimes stilted. Elizabeth Arden, despite her humble upbringing and incredible corporate empire, was portrayed as a brainless blonde in contrast to Helena Rubinstein. She was ‘obsessed’ with her packaging, as opposed to obsessed with how good her porcelain containers were for business. In wartime, the outfits of her sales representatives were exaggerated by ‘military women’ in short skirts, contrasted sharply by Rubenstein’s clinical containers and women in military-inspired uniforms. The rivalry between the two women was written with a strong hand and exaggerated dialogue, while their hesitant coming together seemed much more natural. And at the end of the performance, a question about the unresolved impact of cosmetics on women’s freedom seemed to be misplaced. The narrative of two successful women strong enough to create a lasting industry was diluted by the question of their lasting impact, not on professional women but on beauty standards.

Overall, War Paint brought this narrative into the 21st century with grace and respect for the immense task that both Rubinstein and Arden faced in building companies named after and run by women.

Photo courtesy of BBB.

Rousing applause closed the night at Bandstand, the latest of Broadway’s American musicals. Bandstand boasts an all-original storyline and an all-American plot, addressing the inaction of American government and society in addressing the needs of our veterans in a post-World War II, swing-era context. A tantalizing portrayal of the not-so-glorious aftermath of World War II, Bandstand catalogues the story of Donny Novitski (Corey Cott), a swing pianist from Cleveland with a desire to make it big in the city that never sleeps, and Julia Trojan (Laura Osnes), a recently widowed choir singer who decides to pursue the dream of being a jazz vocalist in order to cope with the unfortunate demise of her husband in the war.

The musical tells the story of a group of veterans gathered by Donny (in a wonderful scene in which each character has a chance to declare “I know a guy”) who form a band to compete in a national radio contest in New York City while struggling to fit into their old lives and deal with the lingering effects of the war. The prize could guarantee celebrity status to its winners, but dealing with complicated interpersonal relationships and the challenges of finding jobs in post-war America, provides obstacles to the band that confront not only the dismal treatment of veterans, but also the essential flaws haunting any pursuit of the American Dream.

Throughout the musical’s opening, Donny is tormented by his role in Julia’s late husband’s death, and is not alone in his burden. Every character bares the marks of the war on their minds, in their music, and in their hearts. Physical ailments are paired with post-traumatic stress and beautifully choreographed scenes wherein the actors physically struggle under the weight of men in military uniform— dragging their ghosts with them. Even Julia, as she joins the band of veterans, struggles with her own loss in the aftereffects of the war.

In addition to survivor’s guilt, Donny has to overcome his pride and fear. His failure to save Julia’s husband presents a very cutting scene on stage in part because Donny is the epitome of the trope of the overconfident male with complete faith in his ability to achieve the American Dream. In fact, in a beautifully belted solo, Danny even quite forcefully inserts himself among the era’s greats, denigrating Sinatra’s skills in comparison to his own.

Altogether, Bandstand hits on a sensitive and relevant topic in today’s society in a way reminiscent of White Christmas’ classic “What Can you Do with a General,” an early commentary on the aftereffects of war; however, with Bandstand modern theater brings us a portrayal more unapologetically gritty and honest…

And, as the musical clearly elucidates, contentious.

It is often hard to like Donny as he gives in to his pride and aggression, losing himself at times to his own mind, but as Julia comes around to see him in a different light, audience members cannot ignore his charm— nor the damage unfairly done to him by the lack of support and representation for returning veterans, veterans living in a society that does not want to acknowledge the scars inflicted on their brothers, fathers, and sons.

Occasionally the complexity of projecting multiple perspectives onto the stage (i.e. the first scene, which is both set at home with Julia and simultaneously abroad in the trenches) and pairing them with interpretive demonstrations of the characters’ mentalities manifests in Bandstand as strange staging and slightly confusing choreography. But, considering the massive scope of the undertaking, Bandstand does an impressive job of playing out its various plotlines.

The only real criticism that came to me in the mutterings of the audience and my own hesitations while watching Bandstand was the distinctly awkward inadmission of the concurrent issue of racial segregation during the 1940s and early 1950s. After all, Brown v. Board of Education didn’t even occur until 1954. As a result, it was a little disconcerting to see the token black character come to life in their use of Kevyn Morrow, the only POC cast member, as blanket ensemble in ambiguous roles with minimal speaking, the musical’s realism marred by its refusal to acknowledge its historical context in this regard. At one point, he is a preacher (for an all-white church), and, at another, he works as a radio executive (for an otherwise all-white station). To leave this unacknowledged is to pretend the harsh reality of the segregated social climate did not exist.

That being said, the musical dealt and dealt well with the issues it did confront, and it is understandable (though unfortunate and perhaps uncomfortable) that, in the stress of dealing with such a hugely important and controversial subject as the mistreatment of veterans, certain aspects of the play became “unreal” and certain unpalatable realities went unacknowledged.

Still, we can learn from Bandstand, in its message and its omitted lines, a great deal about the change that our society calls for, that America needs. So I would still call Bandstand a great American musical, and, with its hard-hitting message on veterans’ needs and its equally stunning choreography, certainly worth watching.

Photo Courtesy  of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Roald Dahl’s classic tale imagined in two drastically different film interpretations makes its sweet debut on the Broadway stage at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre on 46th Street. “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” can make the sun rise and sprinkle it with dew with the playful, child fantasy it creates, but some of the wonders that “must be believed to be seen,” as Grandpa Joe exclaims, do not live up to their hype and leave the audience disappointed with what they actually witness.

Back in my hometown, we have a small children’s theatre where new and old productions alike are performed. I distinctly remember that we had a small production of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” Even though these productions were completely different and the songs in the Broadway version are much better, I was almost shocked when I saw the Broadway set as the set for my small children’s theatre all those years ago seemed to be of the same quality as the Broadway version, if not more profound. The magical world that is Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory is hyped by every single character in the musical, including by actors who do ostentatious jazz hands and sing a repetitive shout of “Willy Wonka!” in order to signal the wonder and whimsy of the titular character. However, when it came time in the second act to witness the chocolate factory for the first time, the result was pretty underwhelming. This was not something I expected from the magic and grandiosity of Broadway.
As for the show itself, Willy Wonka, played by Christian Borle, was the clear star. His hilarious interpretation of the chocolate connoisseur kept me engaged throughout the entire show as Borle combined the different character interpretations from the films while also putting in some of his own flavor. My attention was glued to him for the majority of the time as he would infect the audience with hilarity such as the variety of different impressions he utilized including but not limited to Harry Caray. Even through the cringeworthy moments, such as the ear-piercing yodeling of Augustus Gloop and his mother, Violet Beauregarde’s lackluster explosion, the unique (for lack of a nicer word) Oompa Loompa musical numbers, and even the shocking morbidity to the show, Borle was able to ground the show with his maniacal yet heartwarming interpretation of the epitomal candyman. Through the unique (for lack of a nicer word) Oompa Loompa costuming and the  It’s a shame that the set behind him did not match his world of pure imagination.