The SpongeBob Musical
Newcastle Theatre Royal
Tuesday 5 – Saturday 9 September 2023
SpongeBob has been with us as an animated character since 1999. He is charming and has a sweet innocence as he explores life in Bikini Bottom. It is, perhaps no surprise that marine educator and animator Stephen Hillenburg's sponge creation would hit the stage in 2016. Thanks to Covid and stuff it was delayed but, now the show is finally touring the UK, and is making its North East debut this week in Newcastle.
The longevity of the series was reflected in opening night's audience. There was the youngsters enjoying the show - but there were also some in their 20s who would have witnessed the show in the early years.
The good news is that the charm that was a part of the animation is there in this show. The Kyle Jarrow script manages to creature a 130 minute show that is as engaging as an episode on the television. No mean feat. This is partly done by setting up a complicated matrix of 'I want' songs before the interval.
Which brings us to the music. The SpongeBob Musical features original songs by Yolanda Adams, Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith, Sara Bareilles, Jonathan Coulton, Alex Ebert of Edward Sharpe; The Magnetic Zeros, The Flaming Lips, Lady A, Cyndi Lauper, John Legend, Panic! At the Disco, Plain White T’s, They Might Be Giants and T.I. and songs by David Bowie, Tom Kenny and Andy Paley. They are performed by a live band on stage under musical director Marcus Carter-Adams. Having the live performance of musicians in view helps maintain the energy of the action.
Amongst the wishes of the cast we have Gareth Gates as Squidward wanting to host a music festival, Divina De Campo as Sheldon J.Plankton who wants a bigger market share for his food place and Irfan Damani as Bob's sidekick Patrick who simply wants a bigger acknowledgement from people.
Central to the action is Lewis Cornay as the energetic SpongeBob - his dreams begin with a management of Mr Krab's (Richard J Hunt) Krusty Krab restaurant - but then it moves to trying to save everyone from a volcanic event with his friend Sandy Cheeks (Eloise Davies).
The good news is that the various sub-plots get tidied up before the show ends and this ensures the show has a satisfying finish. Even the dream of Patchy the Pirate (Sam Beveridge) to finally meet SpongeBob is addressed. Poor Sam appears at the start and tries to get the audience excited - but they have just listened to the theatre's standard behaviour voice over and the youngsters are, initially unsure if it is appropriate to respond. A similar message occurs at the end of the interval with similar effect. It is a sad state of affairs that people need to be reminded about behaviour and there were mixed messages in a short period of time.
So SpongeBob has great songs, energetic choreography and charming characters who will entertain fans of the television show. It is a rare beast - a new musical that works that is not simply a juke box musical recycling lots of pre-known songs.
But... (you knew that was coming) the sound at times, where we were sitting, could be a little clearer to help us hear the lyrics. A times we were struggling to make some of the words out. But it was fine most of the time. It is just that it could benefit with a tweak here and there.
Minor quibble aside - I went with an open mind and came away happy. Now I need to find a copy of the cast recording!
Review: Stephen Oliver
Photos: Jules Annan
Tickets can be purchased at www.theatreroyal.co.uk or from the Theatre Royal
Box Office on 0191 232 7010.
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