★★★★☆ SPONGE BOB SQUARE PANTS with sound design from BEN HARRISON opens at The Birmingham Hippodrome

The SpongeBob Musical arrives in Birmingham

The Stage

4 stars out of 5

The SpongeBob Musical review


Joyful UK premiere of the daft, colourful musical about an underwater sponge

It is true of most musicals that if you start asking too many questions, the thing falls apart. Why is everyone singing? Was the Paris student uprising of 1832 really that camp? Who changes the Cats’ litter tray? But seek any rationality from The SpongeBob Musical and you will drive yourself mad. A show based on a cartoon about a sponge who lives in a pineapple at the bottom of the ocean with original songs by Cyndi Lauper, Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler and an obscure piece from a 1995 concept album by David Bowie… what? Why? And is that Gareth Gates playing a tap-dancing squid? But here we are, with the UK’s first outing of the show that never really lit up Broadway like it should, in a mostly new and mostly brilliant production by director Tara Overfield Wilkinson.

Just to be clear, this is not a jukebox musical. They have not done a Rock of Ages on that animated sponge. With the exception of a couple of numbers from SpongeBob episodes and that Bowie reworking, these are all original songs. It really shouldn’t work, having a heart-stirring duet by John Legend nudging up next to Squidward’s ridiculous kick-line number by They Might Be Giants (the show’s best song). But somehow, brought together by Next to Normal’s Tom Kitt, musical supervisor of SpongeBob’s original Broadway production, it all seems perfectly fine in the world of Bikini Bottom

That’s the joy of it: whatever they might want to do on stage, the cartoon has already done something weirder. It doesn’t matter if characters start singing, or if Tina Landau and Kyle Jarrow’s plot is flimsy as seaweed – a giant underwater volcano threatens to destroy Bikini Bottom, SpongeBob and Sandy Cheeks the squirrel save the day – the show can absorb it all like a… well, like some kind of absorbent thing.

True, this touring production is not its best incarnation. It needs to be slicker, tighter, more controlled to earn its sense of chaos and dissolution. Wilkinson adds a vague element about pollution – empty plastic bottles adorn the volcano – which adds to the show’s already plentiful preachy moments. But it is all still a lurid delight, especially the colourful costumes by Sarah Mercadé, which deviate cleverly from the beautiful Broadway creations.

Lewis Cornay’s relentlessly optimistic SpongeBob dominates the show. His voice is a wonder: not only does he hit every ridiculous note thrown at him, but he also manages to keep the strained, throaty SpongeBob voice while doing so. It is a bit annoying that Gareth Gates and Divina de Campo are credited ahead of Cornay when he is so clearly the star, though both of them put in strong performances, Gates a grumpy Squidward and De Campo the frustrated villain Plankton. Chrissie Bhima’s Sandy is a wonderful straight foil to all the ridiculousness, too.

Against the odds, the too-many-cooks approach to creating a franchise show only adds to the enjoyable anarchy. Daft and colourful, with a roster of strong songs and a star in Cornay, this production captures the show’s absurdity and innocence perfectly.



Whats on Stage

4 stars out of 5

The SpongeBob Musical UK and Ireland tour review – ‘lavish, multi-coloured and somewhat zany’

The Nickelodeon hit is making a big splash on our shores!

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Hugely successful as a television series, the characters of SpongeBob SquarePants come to the stage in this lavish, multi-coloured and somewhat zany musical. First created in the USA four years ago, the show is currently in Birmingham and is set to continue on a mammoth tour of the UK and Ireland.

Taking us into an underwater world, the story hinges on a volcano of plastic bottles threatening to erupt and wipe out SpongeBob’s home, Bikini Bottom. While the ever-optimistic titular hero tries to find a benevolent solution, evil Sheldon J Plankton intends to use the danger for his own devious ends to achieve Bikini Bottom domination.

But, being honest, the plot isn’t the reason for liking this show – it’s the imaginative ocean setting and costumes, the non-stop songs and the sheer exuberance of the cast who are having as much fun on stage as the children in the audience.

The set, designed by Steve Howell, is funky and quirky with an ecological message as we see the discarded plastic bottles built into a volcanic mountain which bubbles with fire. Screens on either side of the stage take the story forward with constant news bulletins from entertainment presenter Richard Arnold as the perfectly coiffed Perch Perkins.

Sarah Mercadé’s costumes are wonderfully eclectic from SpongeBob’s bubble-decorated shirt and knee-high socks to Squidward’s magical four-legged trousers. There’s a space-age feel to the show not least during SpongeBob’s solo “(Just a) Simple Sponge” in which the stage darkens and he is surrounded by neon sponges dancing in their own routine.

With songs created by a host of megastars including Cyndi Lauper, Steve Tyler and Joe Perry, The Flaming Lips, Panic! At the Disco and Plain White T’s, the production is also a variety show of music with some catchy tunes which are difficult to shake out of your head. Fabian Aloise’s choreography picks up individual characteristics of the oceanic personalities while also ensuring some lively ensemble pieces.

Lewis Cornay is irrepressible as SpongeBob giving the role bucketloads of energy and enthusiasm. With his yellow tinted hair and aquamarine spectacles, he bounces around the stage, refusing to bow to any defeatist talk and believing that, if they all come together, Bikini Bottom will win through.

Hannah Lowther and Divina De Campo in The SpongeBob Musical
(© Mark Senior)

Divina De Campo layers on the evilness in Plankton. Dressed like an super-villain in giant boots, green bodysuit and, of course, perfectly stylised make-up, De Campo is very much a pantomime baddy whose super-sassy rapping is a highlight of the show.

Gareth Gates gives a great comedic turn as the grumpy Squidward (with Tom Read Wilson covering the role at certain venues across the tour) while Chrissie Bhima’s scientist Sandy Cheeks is smart and feisty.

Directed by Tara Overfield Wilkinson, Nickelodeon’s The SpongeBob Musical is a feast for the eyes and ears while also ensuring children learn the importance of friendship, community spirit and courage in facing adversity. It’s shore to be a winner!

The Times

4 stars out of 5

The SpongeBob Musical review — this loopy cartoon spin-off has us hooked

The Spongebob Musical at Birmingham Hippodrome


Unfamiliar with SpongeBob SquarePants? Not to worry. This bright, shiny and cartoonishy camp new touring production offers novices, including me and the theatre-loving friend I invited to see it, an opportunity for positive change. Like us, you might know nothing about the underwater world of Bikini Bottom and its motley denizens — chief among them the hyper-enthusiastic rectangular sea sponge of the title. But, also like us, you may find yourself smitten with the experience well before the finale.

SpongeBob is the brainchild of the late American marine science educator and animator Stephen Hillenburg. Launched in 1999 on the children’s cable television channel Nickelodeon, Hillenburg’s animated comedy series has become a global cultural phenomenon encompassing catchphrases, merchandise galore, spin-off series and big-screen offshoots (the fourth due in 2025). The series is still going. Conceived by its original director Tina Landau, the stage version premiered in Chicago in 2016 before transferring to Broadway.

Directed by Tara Overfield Wilkinson, this UK touring version lives up to its original format. It is nothing if not animated, bouncing along in a consistently smartly silly manner that happily infects all aspects of the production. Springboarding off Kyle Jarrow’s tongue-in-cheek if somewhat long-winded book, the creative team and a skilfully gung-ho, nearly-20-strong cast offer the oomph that a satisfying large-scale musical needs. This is plain from the tone-setting opening number, an ensemble anthem that introduces the aquatic microcosm of Bikini Bottom and its wacko inhabitants.

Featuring upbeat tunes, rhythmic rap, country rock, bromantic duets and aspirational ballads, the score is remarkably organic, considering that it draws upon songs by more than a dozen songwriters, including John Legend, Cyndi Lauper, Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler and Joe Perry, The Flaming Lips and They Might Be Giants. Jarrow’s storyline, meanwhile, might be a load of nonsense about an imminent volcanic apocalypse but it works thanks to the production’s hysterically loopy charm.

Lewis Cornay’s tirelessly terrific SpongeBob is well-supported by, among others, Irfan Damani’s dopey starfish Patrick, Chrissie Bhima’s science and karate-trained emigrant Texan squirrel, pop star Gareth Gates as the curmudgeonly blue-haired Squidward with secret showbiz dreams and the strapping drag artist Divina de Campo as a scheming Sheldon J Plankton with a computer wife called Karen (Hannah Lowther). Big cheers, too, for Steve Howell’s clever set, Sarah Mercadé’s ridiculously colourful costumes and Fabian Aloise’s peppy choreography. I’m hooked.

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