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DVD Review: The SpongeBob Musical: Live On Stage!

November 3, 2020

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

SpongeBob SquarePants, the beloved cartoon character who made his TV debut in 1999, gets a live action reimagining in The SpongeBob Musical, a boisterous stage show that premiered on Broadway in 2017 and received a dozen Tony nominations.

Now a filmed version of the show, which was broadcast on Nickelodeon last December, is being released on DVD, and it’s a lot of fun to watch. Directed and co-conceived by Tina Landau, with a book by Kyle Jarrow, the stage show brings the animated series to life in colourful and imaginative fashion, turning it into a musical extravaganza populated by catchy songs and game performances from its cast of actors.

The musical is set in the underwater town of Bikini Bottom, where the perpetually optimistic SpongeBob SquarePants (played by Ethan Slater) lives in a pineapple under the sea and works flipping burgers at the Krusty Krab. But disaster is about to hit thanks to an active volcano that is imminently set to erupt, and how the denizens of Bikini Bottom react to their impending doom makes up the bulk of the show’s plot.

Plankton (Wesley Taylor), owner of the rival restaurant the Chum Bucket, tries to exploit the situation and take over the town, while others place blame for the volcano upon SpongeBob’s Texas squirrel friend Sandy Cheeks (Christina Sajous) and her love of science. There are also subplots involving SpongeBob’s dimwitted best friend Patrick Star (Danny Skinner); his cantankerous co-worker Squidward Tentacles (Gavin Lee); his money-loving boss Mr. Krabs (Brian Ray Norris); and Patchy the Pirate (Tom Kenny), who takes the stage during a mid-show interlude.

Under the direction of Glenn Weiss, who oversaw the live recording of the show, The SpongeBob Musical: Live On Stage! captures a high energy performance, with most of the original Broadway cast reprising their roles. The musical doesn’t take itself too seriously, and there is a sense of spontaneity that becomes one of its greatest strengths. Props get tossed to the conductor in the orchestra pit, and the guy doing all of the show’s cartoony sound effects is visible on the side of the stage. The crowd is also shown throughout, highlighting the show’s moments of audience participation.

There is a somewhat scrappy, do-it-yourself quality to The SpongeBob Musical, and this is what gives the show a lot of its charm. The sets have a homemade look to them, and the costumes themselves are interesting in that they are mostly outfits inspired by the cartoon characters rather than actual mascot-like costumes. The lead actor dons brown pants, a yellow shirt, and squeaky black shoes, but he still appears human and isn’t wearing a square yellow box. To put it in terms of fandom, this is closer to the phenomenon of Disney Bounding rather than full on cosplay.

Slater delivers an appealing and energetic performance in the lead, successfully matching the energy of his cartoon counterpart and doing a decent approximation of Tom Kenny’s voice on the show. While the plot mainly serves as a template to bring in many familiar elements and characters from the series, The SpongeBob Musical also tackles themes of prejudice and coming together in the face of adversity in a lighthearted way. It has a sweet, feel good message that really put a smile on my face.

On a personal note, I grew up watching SpongeBob on TV and still consider myself to be a fan, and The SpongeBob Musical does a good job of capturing the hard to replicate spirit of the animated show. The songs are catchy, the production is colourful, and the story is entertaining. Altogether, The SpongeBob Musical: Live On Stage! is an inventive and brightly coloured celebration of SpongeBob’s unflappable optimism that I found to be a lot of fun to watch on DVD.

Bonus Features (DVD):

Sing-Along Version (1 hour, 54 minutes, 21 seconds): An exclusive, extended version of the show featuring onscreen lyrics.

Photo Gallery: A selection of still images from the show.

The SpongeBob Musical: Live On Stage! is a Paramount Home Entertainment release. It’s 115 minutes and rated PG.

Street Date: November 3rd, 2020

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