More than a simple sponge

The Spongebob Musical delights at the Buell 

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The Spongebob Musical at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts through March 22, 2020.
Jeremy Daniel/Courtesy DCPA

Currently on stage at the Buell Theatre is a show that isn’t afraid to talk about the real issues: racism, climate change, science deniers, incompetent governments, and orange-haired, money-obsessed crabs. Even the coronavirus crisis somehow takes centerstage, as the show offers a poignant critique on corporate exploitation, xenophobia, hysteria and modern-day fear culture. 

With all those issues plaguing the show’s stage, who is the unlikely hero that will save the day? Well, he lives in a pineapple under the sea. 

Now playing through March 22, The Spongebob Musical follows Spongebob and friends as they work to protect Bikini Bottom from an erupting volcano. As the government fumbles the action plan and the media stirs the fervor, the town’s residents descend into chaos. 

The show debuted on Broadway in 2017 and garnered a whopping 12 Tony nominations, taking home the award for best scenic design. Its setlist boasts an impressive list of songwriters including Cyndi Lauper, John Legend, Steven Tyler, The Flaming Lips, Sara Bareilles and David Bowie — to name a few. 

The idea of a Spongebob musical had massive potential for triumph or disaster. It could easily be a lazy money-grab resting on name recognition alone or, it could be a fertile ground for innovation and gaiety. Thankfully, The Spongebob Musical took the latter route. 

From start to finish, the show was a joy ride in whimsy. No element was overlooked. The sets, costumes, props, staging and musical numbers were clever and entertaining, with each scene enhanced with playful winks or amusing effects. It brought the zany cartoon to life, which is an ambitious feat. And by choosing to be imaginative, the show became a great piece of theater, 

regardless of its well-known source material. 

Sure, it was by no means a perfect show. The pacing was slightly off, there were an excessive number of storylines, some songs were forgettable, and the music felt disjointed when strung together. Yet, every time a weak point emerged, it would soon be followed by a delightful moment or some refreshing theatrical magic and any criticism would soon dissolve. 

In the end, the positives more than outweigh the negatives, creating a show that audience members can just sit back and enjoy. And in a time of being barraged by crisis, art can provide a little escape to remind us the world’s not all bad. Sometimes you just need a dose of optimism and glee from a squarepants-wearing sponge. 

On the bill: The Spongebob Musical. Denver Center for Performing Arts, Buell Theatre, 1101 13th St, Denver. Through March 22.