Class A narcotics and five-year-olds are a definite no-no when it comes to unusual combinations. But go along to SpongeBob SquarePants at the Palace Theater on Broadway and you might just wonder whether somebody has added something to the pre-performance lemonade you slurped along with your overexcited youngster.
There is a moment, a fair way into the performance, when an actor wearing a pair of trousers featuring four legs (a pair of trousers?) tap dances with all his feet – don’t ask – to a backdrop of high kicking pink sequinned sea anemones link i en blogg. Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds – eat your heart out.
By this point, you will either be hyperventilating with a desire to get away and re-enter a world of sanity or will have succumbed to cheering away with the high-pitched audience, completely caught up in the incredibly funny scene in front of you.
AC/DC on Skateboards
At another point of a surreal experience, an army of sea skates perform heavy rock, on skateboards of course. Now, most of us know that if we are going to see Troilus And Cressida, a touch of preparation beforehand will help us through the complex production we are about to witness. The same is true for SpongeBob SquarePants. Some channels somewhere will be showing repeats, or you can catch them on YouTube. But there is the necessity to have some idea what is going; just a couple of early episodes will mean the hundreds of dollars you spent buying tickets will not be wasted, and indeed will suddenly seem like a very good piece of business. Because, if you surrender yourself to the insanity on stage, you really will have as great a time as the five-year-old bouncing up and down next to you, spilling his sticky e-additive filled drink over your best coat. If the five-year-old belongs to you, both chastisement and indulgence are acceptable; if it is somebody else’s ghastly progeny – you just must put up with it. The roar of the greasepaint, the spill of the crowd.
A Psychedelic Story
Apparently, the budget for the production was somewhere around the $20 million mark; not too much of that was spent on developing the plotline; but this is all to the good, because the target audience is children, and they want to be entertained by riotous color and exciting action not tricky twists and dastardly denouements. Quite soon, you will feel the same way. There is plenty of brightness to entertain the young, but there is also enough adult silliness in the production to keep parents interested. Steve Jobs and Pixar are often credited for introducing the multi-leveled storylines which keep both the kids and the adults entertained; we have a lot to thank them for. For what it is worth, the story is that the undersea world faces destruction, and it is down to SpongeBob, Super Scientist Sandy Cheeks and best pal Patrick Star, the Starfish (as can be seen, subtlety is best avoided) to save the day.
An Elastic Actor
At the center of everything is SpongeBob himself. The temptation to use special effects, hours of makeup and digital imagery to create the character on stage must have been tempting, but director Tina Landau made exactly the right decision by avoiding these. What we get is young Ethan Slater, making his Broadway Debut, dressed in plaid pants and a shirt. Everything else is left to our imagination, and that makes our enjoyment greater – there are no limits in our brains as there are latex and special effects.
Ethan Slater might have dreamed of starting his Broadway career as a Marius in Les Mis, a Chris in Miss Saigon or some other romantic lead. In his days of dancing lessons and voice work, he probably did not contemplate appearing as a yellow sea sponge with self-esteem issues.
Or maybe he did because he is quite simply superb in the part. He twists, he turns, he stretches, and he gyrates in a way no CGI effects could ever duplicate. Within seconds, he IS SpongeBob. The remainder of the cast is also great, knowing when to go a little over the top, and when to withdraw, hermit crab-like, into their shell. The pick of the performers are Danny Skinner as Patrick, the Starfish, and the wonderful Lilli Cooper as the Sandy Cheeks.
Musically, the credits go to Tom Kitt, but songs come from the pens of various big-name musicians, including Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith.
The chances are, this show won’t be a big winner in the awards season, but it ought to be. If the theatre is to survive, and not become a popcorn consuming experience that is sub cinema, then the young generation needs to beentranced. SpongeBob SquarePants could play a major part in achieving this.
Reviews have been good, and deservedly so: ‘SpongeBob soars!’ claims Time Out while the New York Times calls it ‘Perversely Brilliant.’ It is distinctly kid-friendly, although there might be some tired eyes at the end of evening performances.
The Palace Theater lies in the heart of New York theater land, on 1564 Broadway, and it is one of the bigger venues in the city. A capacity of 1743 means that views can be a little tricky for the little ones. Having said that. The adults in the audience are pretty tolerant towards the odd bit of standing up and excited screams. 8.00 pm starts on Friday and Saturday are a little on the late side, parents might think, and it seems a little churlish to limit the show to five years olds and upwards. But matinees at 2.00 pm on Wednesdays and Saturdays are a good time to visit; there are 7.00 pm starts for all other performances, those being on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Prices on Broadway.com begin at a tad under $50, but the back-side of the balcony is quite away from the stage. There are a few good seats still available for most performances, with prices ranging from $125 for side rear seats in the orchestra stalls, to $159 for the front of the mezzanine.
Seatgeek also has seats available starting from $83, while Stubhub has some from only $33 from the center of the balcony. These represent very good value because although the stage is a long way off, views won’t be obstructed by tall adults and the show is big enough to carry to the back of the auditorium with ease. Other seats run from $168.95 for the rear center of the orchestra stalls up to $400+ for the very best views. They also have plenty of prices in between.
Sometimes, taking a kid to a show can be a bit of strain, something best left to grandparents, but that is not the case with SpongeBob…it makes a fitting and fun night for very much older children as well – even those with kids of their own.