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"The SpongeBob Musical," show #843

Anyone who follows my blog regularly, or who knows me in general, has been made aware that I am not a fan of The SpongeBob Musical. I find the animated series better at dealing with the complex issues by invoking more nuance and creativity into its writing; I find the multi-artist score of the musical to not have much cohesiveness. However, if there was going to be a theatre company that could change my mind, it would be Selma Arts Center.

When I saw the Broadway production, at intermission, I turned to my group and informed them that I was rooting for the volcano. They laughed. We got margaritas. At intermission of Selma’s production, I turned to my guest and said, “I’m not rooting for the volcano. I really do want SpongeBob and Sandy to save Bikini Bottom!” Director Dominic Grijalva and assistant director Kelsey Deroian have created a cohesive community of Bikini Bottom residents, one that invites the audience to see a standard level of commitment to the cartoon, the silly, and the messages embedded in Kyle Jarrow’s book; one that allows us to see the show through SpongeBob’s enthusiastic and energetic eyes.

(L to R: Cady Mejias (Sandy), Josh Plowman (Patrick), and Jonathan Padilla (SpongeBob); Photo credit: Kyle Lowe)

There’s a volcano threatening the existence of Bikini Bottom and the local mayor isn’t doing much to help, so it’s left up to our three friends, SpongeBob SquarePants, Patrick Star, and Sandy Cheeks to lead the underwater citizens to safety. Jonathan Padilla, as the titular hero, gives a stellar performance, replete with animated commitment and a great tenor voice. Padilla’s leading of “Bikini Bottom Day,” “Hero is My Middle Name,” and “Best Day Ever” are not just vocal highlights but allows for him to show off the physical demands to be executed with superb energy which the role requires. Padilla teams up with a delightfully charming Josh Plowman as Patrick Star, the well-meaning-but-dopey best friend, for a wonderful “BFF” and “(I Guess I) Miss You,” showcasing swell harmonies and friendship-grounding chemistry. Plowman leads a joyous “Super Sea Star Savior,” belting out the gospel-esque vocals and leading the ensemble in Michael C. Flores (Choreographer) and Lalaina Rabetsimba’s (Associate Choreographer) excellent musical staging. Cady Mejias delivers a fun Sandy, the outsider land mammal who’s made her home among the sea-dwelling citizens. Mejias’s vocals and southern drawl-inspired dialect are given true treatment in displaying her getting the character we know from the cartoon right while still imbuing her own twist on the aquatic squirrel. “Chop to the Top” is a bop of a duet in the hands of Mejias and Padilla, and Mejias capitalizes on her excellent delivery of Sandy with a wonderful degree of camaraderie with Padilla and Plowman while showing the emotions of being “othered” among the Bikini Bottom denizens when not being trusted with her town-saving plan.

(Standing, L to R: Jonathan Padilla (SpongeBob), Cady Mejias (Sandy), Josh Plowman (Patrick), surrounded by members of the Ensemble; Photo credit: Kyle Lowe)

John Piper is a standout in the role of Squidward Tentacles, the grumpy mensch among the Bikini Bottom population. Piper’s accurate nasal timbre is right in line with balancing the cartoon’s depiction and a legit musical theatre vocal performance. Piper’s leading of the show-stopping “I’m Not a Loser” is a rousing tap, backed up with the energetic tap-ography of Kaylee Hernandez, executed by the talented Sea Anemone tap ensemble. Jorge Ramirez and Camille Gaston ignite their antagonistically crafty rom-com arc as Plankton and Karen the Computer, respectively. Their comedic timing and leaning into the few more-adult-themed jokes make for a well-rounded audience experience. Jason Bionda is a stalwart Mr. Krabs, and does a fine job in his duet with Pearl, Mr. Krabs’s daughter, played by a fantastically voiced Gracie Dodson, in “Daddy Knows Best.” Mady Broach gives some great moments of sass as the Mayor, and Jacob Gonzales brings his booming bass to the direly composed “No Control.”

(L to R: Jonathan Padilla (SpongeBob), Jacob Gonzales (pictured as Perch Perkins), Gracie Dodson (Pearl); Photo credit: Kyle Lowe)

Technically, this show has all the goods, with the entire team making their respective designs a direct part of the company rather than just impressive servings of backdrop and finesses to the staging. The use of Mitchell Lam Hau’s stunning set design is incredibly constructed, dressed, choreographed, and utilized, especially in “Chop to the Top” and subsequent volcano-related scene work. Heather Sisk’s costumes are perfectly tempered in giving character to each role and using pops of color at every possible turn. Grijalva (doubling as Hair Designer) and Steve Souza’s wig design are fitting of the Bikini Bottom residents' aesthetic, and Alyssa Burgos’s makeup design is a masterclass in how perfectly designed makeup adds miles more of enjoyment in seeing the different characters’ expressions and features accented. Christina Martinez-McCollam’s lighting design is a standard in underwater lighting where the mood shifts from party to doom to romance to nearly every other mood a SpongeBob story brings to the stage. Shannah Estep’s vocal direction is being done justice with the solo work and company numbers, being a unified blend of character voice and reliable energy when called for, with specific featured standouts by The Electric Skates (Lex Martin, Drew Langer, and Michael Seitz) in “Bikini Bottom Boogie.” Adrian Oceguera’s turn as the Foley Fish is a welcomed part of the comedy and gives complement to Ajay Davis’s great sound design.

(Cast of The SpongeBob Musical; Photo credit: Kyle Lowe)

Take it from a guy who simply doesn’t like this musical as written/composed/conceived, but seriously enjoyed what Selma Arts Center has done with the piece. Seeing this show with its celebratory nature giving surface to the deep-water messages of family dynamics, government promise vs. media reporting, and racial/gender topics is what audiences can enjoy in the time of trying to crawl out of this pandemic. I implore you to swim on over to Selma Arts Center, jump into Bikini Bottom ready to be entertained, and enjoy your time in a pineapple under the sea!

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