Reviewed by Dr. Tiffany Raymond, PhD
Duquesne University’s Red Masquers bring SpongeBob Squarepants the Musical to the stage.
I recruited the nearest kid, my 10-year-old son, to attend SpongeBob as my +1 to capture the target audience point of view. While he’s never been a huge SpongeBob fan, that high-pitched SpongeBob voice is also not wholly unfamiliar in our household.
Theron proved the only kid there for a packed opening night, but it wasn’t too shocking. While SpongeBob is still produced and televised today, the first episode aired in 1999. That makes SpongeBob and his best friend, Patrick Star, the childhood companions of today’s college students. The show is a nostalgic throwback for the collegiate crowd.
In ensemble scenes, the large cast spills over the perimeter of the Genesius Theater’s stage. Given the stage is at floor level and seats rise up on three sides, it makes for an intimate production. The energy levels radiating from the cast are palpable. Like a strong ocean current, the audience can’t help but be swept along the Bikini Bottom sea.
Leading the charge is the ever-optimistic SpongeBob (Ellie Troiani). The petite Troiani is a foil to the towering Patrick Star (Logan Raymond). They visually emulate their cartoon counterparts. Troiani is well-cast as her singing voice is the best and strongest in the house. Her bubbly energy bursts forth from her yellow short-sleeved button-down shirt and rolled up plaid trousers.
Raymond perfectly captures the hapless Patrick. When Troiani and Raymond sing “BFF,” Patrick is initially confused by “bff?” as he tries to make it into a word, not realizing it’s an acronym. Director John E. Lane Jr. makes the confusion believable. When SpongeBob and Patrick spell out BFF in the air as they sing, Lane has Raymond spell it slowly and cautiously the first time, visually out of step with the fast-paced Plain White Ts tune. By the final verse, Patrick swipes his finger through the air confidently, spelling out the three letters effortlessly as he has grasped the magnitude of friendship.
Ryan Graves portrays the temperamental Squidward Tentacles. Kim Brown’s costuming genius has the cephalopod in conjoined turquoise pants. A second pair of pants come off the back and bending legs terminate in a pair of white patent leather shoes that are stitched to Graves’ own at the rear heel seam. It’s completely mesmerizing. Graves moves fluidly and doesn’t let the costume overshadow his performance, particularly as he performs “I’m Not a Loser” by They Might Be Giants.
Unlike most musicals, this one features songs by an array of artists from The Flaming Lips to Panic! At the Disco. They all meld on the undersea floor, making the musical less one note.
Matt Dudley’s Sheldon Plankton, proprietor of The Chum Bucket (the Krusty Krab’s rival restaurant), is masterfully evil. Veined face make-up tracing his already prominent cheekbones amplify his menace. Kim Brown costumes him in a striking kelly green suit with a ribbed fuchsia mock turtleneck that is revealed to be sleeveless when Dudley rips off his blazer in perfect synchrony as he sings about not having arms.
John E. Lane Jr. triumphs as both director and set designer. The set design is enchantingly fun. Simple items like rainbow slinkies and pool noodles strung together like giant macaroni necklaces hang from the ceiling across the theatre. They create an undersea environment inclusive of both actors and audience. Boxes with oodles of pool noodles spilling out of them create stove-pipe sponges that frame the stage and playfully reinforce the sponge theme.
These pops of color are enhanced by Rick Frendt’s laudable projection design. Frendt channels another famous animated underseas world. Rays of light projecting down through the water at the start of the show are reminiscent of the opening scenes of Finding Nemo.
The 2017 musical written by Kyle Jarrow echoes differently in a post-pandemic world. As fear and uncertainty grip the town due to the threat of an impending volcanic eruption, opinions diverge and chaos unfolds.
The town’s Mayor (Emma Moore) channels the quintessential bureaucrat removed from reality. She pontificates with meaningless, process-oriented talk about searching for committee members, initiating a strategy, formulating a plan…all while the 48-hour countdown clock is ticking. Patrick represents the short-horizoned everyman who laments “the stores are all closed and I’m out of snacks.”
When smarty squirrel Sandy Cheeks (Susie Betten) recommends “science y’all – that’s the answer,” she faces an angry mob. As a proverbial fish out of water (or squirrel in water in her case), Sheldon riles the townspeople into believing she must have ulterior motives as an outsider. In fact, Sheldon’s finger pointing ploy is simply to distract from his own evil schemes.
Will science win? Head over to the Red Masquers’ performance of SpongeBob Squarepants the Musical through November 19th to find out. Purchase tickets at here.