Date Reviewed: 16th April, 2009
Venue: The Lowry
Nickelodeon’s Spongebob Squarepants is a wacky and subversive animated hit, popular with children and students, alike. It would be a tall order for a musical stage version to hit the spot in exactly the same way, but this inventive and eye catching production does just that.
The first half is a tad slow and it takes a while for the characterisations to work. But the songs; a mix of The B52s meets Broadway make your feet tap and I spotted two kids on the balcony dancing along, in time to the music. The show has an infectious quality, which makes it very hard not to go with the flow and simply enjoy it for what it is; one massive sugar rush!
The narrative is slim, our hero Spongebob wants to fly and we witness various attempts through song and dance numbers. Based upon a televsion episode called The Sponge Who Could Fly and written by Steven Banks (head writer for the TV show) it features the characters your children love and the stage is always busy and colourful, brimming with David Gallo’s cartoonish visuals.
Of Eban Schletter’s songs, “Fly With The Jellyfish” and “Flying Sponge” are the most memorable and each and every number is delivered with real panache and enthusiasm by the 10 strong cast. Chris Coxon takes a while to work his magic on the Lowry audience, but once settled into the role of the yellow protagonist, the children adore him. Seen flying above the stage, singing on a surfboard, he replicates his character’ss voice with determination with ease. John Fricker also offers value for money as Patrick Star, his funny sidekick.
The Flying Dutchman is Spongebob’s nemesis and he is superbly realised, along with his singing skeleton pals. He may be a bit scary for little ones, but like the rest of the show, he reminds you of a fairground ride attraction, as the scale is the key here, and his creation, alone is worth the admission price.
Sure, this show is loud and the effect is that of a St Bernard licking you across the face, but within the narrative, the cast imbue their characters with heart and soul. And at 90 minutes, including an interval, Spongebob and his pals never outstay their welcome. Alison Pollard’s dialogue-driven direction keeps things brimming along nicely.
Mini critics, Ella and Mia Walsh accompanied me and they both loved this colourful family show and remained silent, in awe throughout much of the running time.
The show would benefit from more audience participation and a revolve to help move the set pieces along, which will stop tiny tots from getting bored. But this is a minor quibble as on the night I attended, the audience loved this maritime musical.
For sheer originality, where else will you see a surfing squirrel, a lobster wearing swimming trunks and a singing squid? Zany, full of fast paced songs and glorious set pieces, Spongebob Squarepants is a perfect treat for your Beach Boys and Girls.