Yes, Elsa and crew are ramping things up over at the St. James Theater on 44th Street (Frozen is currently in previews; if you didn’t snag tickets or the price tag is not in the budget right now, you can enter the digital lottery for $30 tickets here.) But a quick reminder: the Disney show is intended for kids ages eight and older; we haven’t seen it, but parents do die in the movie version.) For a family-friendly Broadway show with all the fun and less Drama, you can’t go wrong with SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical. Whether it’s a special occasion treat, an outing with the grandparents, or even some theater just because, this production delivers from the moment you walk in the theater. Read on for what makes this show special!
Bikini Bottom Comes to Broadway
When you adapt a slightly absurdist technicolor cartoon starring a talking sponge for the Great White Way, you kind of have to go big or go home.
Under Tina Landau’s direction the fun, gentle, and colorful (in every sense of the word) spirit of the TV series and SpongeBob himself is felt from the moment you arrive, with even the lobby’s central chandelier transformed into a glowing pineapple (AKA SpongeBob’s home under the sea).
But cross the threshold to the theater proper and you’re transported to Bikini Bottom, thanks to David Zinn’s scenic design (he also created the show’s fun costumes), Kevin Adams’ lighting design (which “submerges” patrons into the deep) and upbeat music worthy of a luau, performed by a live band decked out in beachy attire.
Projections of swimming schools of fish move across the curtain, an impressive collection of SpongeBob memorabilia is displayed to the left of the stage, and day-glo scenery spills off the stage — and up — drawing in audience members. Everything from mylar fringe and florescent bicycles to “boom boxes” and pool noodles are enlisted to create the wacky and watery environment, and in a fun bit of pre-show business involving a pirate and some “security”, patrons are reminded to turn off cell-phones.
Ethan Slater (SpongeBob SquarePants), Danny Skinner (Patrick Star), Lilli Cooper (Sandy Cheeks), and the Original Broadway Company of SpongeBob SquarePants, The Broadway Musical. Photo by Joan Marcus
SpongeBob (and Friends) in Human Form
You might think it’s hard to embody the spirit of a square sponge, but actor Ethan Slater is up to the challenge, and conjure’s SpongeBob’s plucky and funky character.
We’re introduced to SB, his friends (best pal Patrick Star, curmudgeon Squidward Q. Tentacles, et. al), his ‘hood of Bikini Bottom and its inhabitants in the rousing “Bikini Bottom Day” opening number by Jonathan Coulton.
That’s the first of almost 20 musical numbers in the show, each of which is penned accomplished musicians of all types, talents and genres. Just a few of the heavy-hitting contributors include David Bowie and Brian Eno (“No Control”), Cyndi Lauper and Rob Hyman (“Hero is My Middle Name”), Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith (“Bikini Bottom Boogie”), Sara Bareilles (“Poor Pirates”), John Legend (“I Guess I Miss You”), Lady Antebellum (“Chop to the Top”), and They Might Be Giants (“I’m Not a Loser”). There’s not a dud in the bunch, and it’s fun to see each pro tackle the SpongeBob musical number challenge with their own particular flair.
Not Just Another Bikini Bottom Day
At the beginning of the show, we find our squishy hero hoping, as usual, to score a manager position at burger joint the Krusty Krab. Things take a turn for the apocalyptic when Bikini Bottom’s resident baddie, Plankton (winningly played by Wesley Taylor), hatches a self-serving and destructive plan.
Spoiler alert: SpongeBob ultimately saves the day with help from mammal/scientist friend Sandy Cheeks, gains self-confidence and comes to appreciate his friends even more — but you knew that was going to happen.
The journey is the destination, as they say, and this particularly fun one includes Patrick unwittingly becoming the leader of a cult of guppies; some rocking and rolling (like, handstands on skateboards and such) from resident rock band The Electric Skates; a really big show number from Squidward (the aforementioned “I’m not a Loser,” performed with gusto and aplomb by musical vet Gavin Lee), and entertaining and charming musical numbers filled with incredible props and inventive staging and choreography. (Shout out to the black light kitchen sponge number.)
There’s not a clunker in the bunch, and the whole company—many of which are making their Broadway debut—is fantastic. (Note: 18-year old Atlanta native Jai’len Christine Li Josey, who blows the roof off the place as Pearl Krabs.)
To finish things off, the performance ends with a kid-stastic explosion of bubbles, confetti, and giant beach balls, as well as a rousing singalong of the SpongeBob SquarePants theme song. Best. Day. Ever.
Get Fortified Before or After
If you’re venturing into Times Square, it’s worth making a day of it, whether you’re grabbing brunch before a matinee, or an early dinner before or after a performance. Were the guest of Charlie Palmer at the Knick, the chef’s restaurant at landmark hotel The Knickerbocker for brunch, and give it two thumbs up for a fancy yet kid-friendly option. The large and sleek eatery overlooks Broadway and 42nd Street (big picture windows provide great views of the hustle and bustle below), so starting or ending your outing here adds a bit of NYC pizazz.
In addition to a starter basket of fresh pastries such as a chocolate croissant and cinnamon buns, the kid’s menu offers choices such as buttermilk pancakes ($14) with maple syrup and the topping options of bananas, chocolate chips or strawberries; fruit bowl and low- fat yogurt ($10); one egg any style with choice of bacon or sausage ($12), and a daily smoothie ($8). Our companion ordered and enjoyed the banana pancakes with apple juice. Lunch and dinner for kids includes peanut butter and jelly ($8), chicken strips ($12), mac and cheese ($10), penne pasta with tomato sauce ($10) and fresh fruit or vegetables ($8).
Adults do well here, too, with both healthy choices and more decadent offerings. In addition to traditional breakfast fare, options include The Knick breakfast sandwich with fried egg, comte cheese, avocado snd Italian speck ($17), egg white and kale frittata ($22), apple-stuffed French toast ($20), and our choice, the delactable Midtown eggs benedict, with Maine lobster, poached organic eggs, potato Rosti, and Béarnaise sauce. (So good.) Coffee drinkers will be pleased to know Stumptown is brewed fresh here, with refills aplenty thanks to attentive service.
SpongeBob SquarePants The Broadway Musical
Tickets: $49 and up
1564 Broadway at 47th Street
Charlie Palmer at The Knick
The Knickerbocker Hotel
6 Times Square
Have you checked out either of these Times Square destinations? Share your review in the comments!
Our show and meal was paid for by Charlie Palmer at The Knick, but all opinions expressed here belong to the writer.