“Ladies and Gentle-Fish!” Prepare yourselves for a real “Bikini Bottom Day” as “One More Productions”, the award-winning production company housed in the landmark “Gem Theatre” in Garden Grove California, has taken on their boldest (—and certainly among their most vibrant and imaginative–) project in their esteemed 18-year history, as they present the Southern California premiere of “The SpongeBob Musical”!
Based on the hit Nickelodeon animated television series, “SpongeBob SquarePants”, the musical features a score comprised of singles by various songwriters, among them David Bowie, Cyndi Lauper, Lady Antebellum, Steven Tyler and Joe Perry, while the book is by Kyle Jarrow. This new production is Directed by “One More Productions” Co-Founder Damien Lorton (who also serves as Musical Director) with Choreography by Angela Mattern. “It’s about you leaving the theater and being happier,” Lorton expressed regarding his eagerness to stage this particular show—and if generating happiness is the ultimate goal here, he and the gang at “One More Productions” couldn’t have chosen a more fitting show to do it with. Indeed, talk about a fun show for all audiences? This production practically personifies the term!
Jarrow’s book is always witty and fast-paced, giving rise to numerous theatrical ‘challenges’ which gives this show a singular distinction apart from all the rest. It also ranks as one of those rare shows that genuinely has something for the entire family.
Kids will take to the more ‘cartoon’ aspects and the ‘modern fairytale” nature of the story, while teens and adults are sure to appreciate the off-the-wall, irreverent humor and quirky characters that have always been such a big part of the “SpongeBob” universe (What’s more, you don’t even need to be acquainted with the program to enjoy this stage adaptation!) The story unfolds pleasantly enough as our hero and all of his well-known TV cohorts from their home of “the world-renowned Bikini Bottom”, face another new, nautical “Bikini Bottom Day”. However, trouble begins to materialize when billows of smoke are seen issuing from nearby “Mount Humongous”–a long slumbering underwater “Volcano Of Doom”. “There’s no chance in kelp!” they all despair of their prospects of surviving the total annihilation it threatens to bring, immediately plunging the town and its occupants into utter (if supremely tuneful,) chaos. With all their lives hanging in the balance, just when all hope seems lost, a most unexpected hero rises in the form of this exuberant little sponge who joins together with his crew of “B.F.F.’s” to prove that the power of optimism and determination undeniably can save the world! (It’s an oddly relevant message—especially now.)
“I think this is the biggest show ‘One More Productions’ has ever done,” Lorton enthused to all of the first-nighters in attendance, as to what went into overseeing the prodigious talents of his cast of 27. In fact, there’s pristine ensemble work throughout, and this production provides numerous opportunities for it. In addition, key amongst Lorton’s many strengths as a director has always been in the clever and innovative ways he’s solved his shows’ various technical conundrums—and has done so in such entertaining ways. In this respect “The SpongeBob Musical” is absolutely no exception! He excels in maintaining the equilibrium of so many elements and portrayals while also keeping all of the action fascinating and flowing (The “Jelly Fishes” entrance has to be seen to be appreciated–words just don’t do it justice!) Consider also how much of Act Two is devoted to our heroes’ on-going quest to assail the pinnacle of Mount Humongous—but Lorton manages to make each short cutaway segment fairly compelling just in the way he’s staged them.
Then there’s the way the show encompasses such a virtual cornucopia of dance numbers—and in a wide variety of dance genres—which itself, serves as another element to recommend it. Happily, Ms. Mattern too, is up to the task (and then some,) infusing each number with plenty of fancy, fluid or frenetic footwork. “Bikini Bottom Day” (a theme that will be repeated several times to punctuate the goings-on) is a truly “Grand’ opening number which, more than just presenting the cast, also presents the costumes! Over and above that though, it also accentuates the ensemble as they carry out some thoroughly ecstatic maneuvers (including two individuals walking on stilts!) As a group number it likewise occasions some sublime harmonizing (dazzling dance and superb singing—what more can you ask for in an opening?) This motif is further reinforced shortly after with “When the Going Gets Tough” –a great ‘hip-hop’ infused crowd-pleaser pulsating with some awesome acrobatic exploits, as the towns people of “Bikini Bottom” try getting together to concoct some notion of what to do about the danger suddenly facing them, only to find their efforts hampered by a barrage of round, red, ‘boulders’ spit at them from the heart of “Mount Humongous”.
Later, “Tomorrow Is” makes for a great Act Break, boasting still more first-class group harmony led by “Sponge Bob” and his resourceful gal-pal, “Sandy”, while in the same way, “Best Day Ever” is the jaunty “11 O’Clock” chorale number. It finds the townsfolk, having been spared from imminent disaster, ready to face life with a little more gratitude for what they have and for each other, with the best way to show it being (naturally,) through a robust stretch of jubilant dancing. Before they’re through, one last reprise of “Bikini Bottom Day” makes for a rollicking finale—bringing all the action as to its exultant close, so big and bright it flows over into the auditorium! Before they’re through, an equally jivey, fully choreographed curtain-call is sung and danced–all set to the actual theme-song from the TV show.
The casting here shows-off several familiar faces at “The Gem” in a whole new and refreshing light, and this, most assuredly is one of the production’s major strengths. As the ever-optimistic aquatic invertebrate, “SpongeBob SquarePants” himself, Hayden Mangum–last seen in the title role of the company’s dynamic production of “Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”, continues his Gold-medal streak there. This time Mangum is given a sterling opportunity to display his versatility with a more ‘character’ role after previously proving his dexterity in the “Leading Man” category. He also gets some of the script’s very best lines and the score’s best verses: “B.F.F.—that stands for us,” Bob croons to his best buddy “Patrick” in their initial duet, “B.F.F.”. “Every little thing that I can think of doing just sounds better doing it together.” “Just A Simple Sponge” is a comparable triumph for Hayden early on that, judging from the enthusiastic response it received from opening night’s audience easily rates show-stopper status. (Mangum even plays a mean ukulele as part of the “Big” finale!) Peter Crisafulli also adds to his list of commendable performances and expands his acting repertoire as the pink-haired “Star Fish”, “Patrick Star”. He too shines at the center of “Super Sea-Star Savior”—a lively gospel-tinged group endeavor that bursts forth into an uproarious revival meeting as a sprightly passel of young “Sardines” in pink hats, think they’ve happened upon their protector and redeemer in the hapless “Patrick” (Count this one as a big, boisterous and bubbly show highlight as well!) Mangum and Crisafulli also share another unforgettable pairing (—arguably the best written song in the entire score,) called “I Guess I Miss You”, a shared soliloquy providing each the occasion to deliver some pretty lofty money-notes by the number’s ride-out.
Another of “Bob’s” most valuable allies in the course of his antics is Julia Iacopetti, who’s a complete knock-out as ‘Scientist’ and all around ‘brain’, “Sandy Cheeks”. “Sandy” is the mind and driving force behind the “Eruptor Disruptor”—the device that is the only thing that can save the town; trouble is, to be effective it has to be thrown into the top of the volcano, and that’s so perilous a task, none (to date) have made it up there. Nonetheless, her “Sandy” proves as dauntless as she is brilliant: “I am Sandy—hear me roar!” she declares in the midst of her rollicking trio with Mangum and Crisafulli, dubbed “Hero Is My Middle Name”; “Won’t be playin’ sweet no more,” she sings “…courage is my claim to fame–and Hero Is My Middle Name!” This gives rise to some thrilling three-part harmony and classes it among the most impressive moments for all three performers. Subsequently in the latter half, Iacopetti’s duo with Mangum, “Chop To The Top” (as the pair desperately press on in their attempt to climb Mount Humongous,) is another well-conveyed, and even a bit inspirational, dual win for both involved! Matthew Rangel also returns to “The Gem” as Bob’s other compadre, “Squidward Q. Tentacles”: “I’ve been developing a one-man show starring an as-yet undiscovered, handsome—and very leggy talent. I call it: ‘Tentacle Spectacle—the Musical” he informs us. He gets the second act show-stopper, “I’m Not A Loser”—a bright and bubbly (no pun intended) divertissement that starts out modest enough as “Squidward’s” declaration of self-worth, before it swells into an all-out Vegas inspired Tap extravaganza that has our boy “Squidward” backed by a cadre of high-stepping happy-hoofers, whom he leads in a nifty, old-school ‘challenge dance’ (he demonstrates a step, which they repeat, and then they add another for him to perform, before they all join together for a buoyant Kickline.) Rangel and company definitely have all the right moves and this spirited sequence is a categorical ‘peak-interlude’ after intermission!
Fine support is also furnished by James Scognamillo as the villainous “Sheldon J. Plankton”: “I may be small, but my genius is immense!” he proclaims at the start, before informing his ‘wife’ “Karen”, “I have a new scheme—my best one yet!” He gloats; “But for it to work, I need the town to stay scared!” His line, uttered in response to “Sandy’s” plan to save the town via her mechanism that would stop the volcano from erupting has Sheldon scoffing: “Do any of you actually believe that ‘science’ can save us?!” (Yeah, it’s a sentiment that takes on an added irony given recent times.) Iva Erwin also makes a laudable impact as his wisecracking counterpart, “Karen Plankton”. Together, Scognamillo and Erwin’s shared chanson, “When The Going Gets Tough” outlines their scheme to convince the citizens of “Bikini Bottom” to enter an “escape pod” of their concoction that would supposedly ensure everyone’s safety while at the same time allow the couple to hypnotize them all into liking the disgusting “chum burgers” that the ‘Plankton’s’ dish up at their restaurant, “The Chum Bucket”—“the least popular restaurant in town” (“Because we’re really chums,” Sheldon sleazes.) Tim Klega, himself another established talent on “The Gem” stage, also adds to his litany of great idiosyncratic parts here–this time playing “Bob’s” money-grubbing, perpetually bellowing boss, “Eugene Krabs”, the owner of “The Krusty Krab” (“The finest third-rate grease-pot,” where Bob works,) Klega succeeds most strikingly with his ode in praise of money, titled “Daddy Knows Best”—sung opposite Savannah Clayton as his perky teenage daughter “Pearl” (and oh, what an amazing voice this young lady has as well!) Plenty of riveting and rambunctious support is also supplied by Erik Diaz, Aaron Gibbs, and Nate Nolan who inject the goings on with some athletic energy as “The Electric Skates”–a gnarly trio of new-wave rockers with one on roller-skates, one riding a scooter, and the other who performs some nifty stunts with the aid of his skateboard (Think of them as something akin to a trio of “Green Day” wannabe’s only on wheels.) Their raucous “Bikini Bottom Boogie” helps rocket the second act into high-gear and in high style. (So too, of special interest to fans of the animated sitcom is Sponge Bob’s pet “Gary”—an oversized sea-snail who purrs like a cat, inventively presented here as a bug-eyed puppet on a skateboard)
Utilizing the talents of several new designers to “The Gem”, it can safely be asserted that this is one show that flourishes on the strength of all its combined technical elements, and as such, each of the technical and design staff at OMP have out done themselves with the lighting, the make-up and even hair colors sported by the cast! Costume Designer Marquita Lopez wisely steers away from the Broadway original’s costuming which tried to essentially recreate the over-all ‘look’ of the cartoon. Instead, she’s favored a luminous kaleidoscope of neon color—to suggest, not copy—the animated figures. Take for instance, Sheldon’s slick green velvet sport coat, contrasted against “Karen’s” bold orange workout ensemble—and that’s just for starters! The entire production seethes with breathtaking tints, shades and hues. Also keeping with this ‘prismatic’ attitude is Amanda Stuart’s Scenic Design, which is a wonder in its own right—and might very well be counted the most intricate formulated for any of the company’s productions. Even the general ambience which greets you upon entrance into the Gem’s auditorium is spot-on and authentic—with oversized inflatable “Bubbles” ersatz “kelp” and fishnets all bathed in cool blue lighting. It is also remarkable to note that all the materials used in making these seemingly lavish sets were recycled–culled from materials literally found in the nearby ocean. Matching them color-for-color is Jon Hyrkas’ similarly vivacious lighting designs, which at times even comment on or enhance the effectiveness of a scene or number. A Prime example of this is during “Daddy Knows Best”—an A-Plus duet between “Mr. Krabs” and his daughter “Pearl” that has her bathed in pink while he remains awash in stunning “Money Green”. He’s also adeptly signified the threat of the volcano by blasting the stage in harsh and sudden red light every time its portentous tremors occur. Not to be overlooked either is Brian Bolanos’ nothing short of sensational make-up designs. Because of these, every face on stage has its own unique (and splashy) tale to tell! Where else are you going to find such manic, melodic, multi-colored marine magic on stage this summer?
So have “Your Best Day Ever”–at the theater! Having officially opened on Saturday, July 2nd, “The SpongeBob Musical” is set to play through Sunday, July 31st, 2022, at “The Gem Theatre”– located at 12852 Main Street in Garden Grove, CA. Show-times are Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings at 8:00 PM, with Sunday Matinees at 2:00 PM (There will be a special post-performance “talk back” with the cast on Friday, July 8th.) Tickets may be obtained by calling “One More Productions” at (714) 741-9550, ext. 221, by logging onto: http://www.theGemoc.com , or by visiting the “Gem Theatre” box-office in person on Tuesdays and Thursdays between the hours of 2:00 PM and 6:00 PM. Special discounts for Seniors (60+) and Children (12 and under) are available for this engagement.
Production Photos by Dave Safley/Modern Pics ModernPics.com Courtesy of “One More Productions” www.theGEMoc.com ; Special thanks to Damien Lorton, Nicole Cassesso, Dan Baird, Shoko Araki, Dave Safley and to the cast and crew of “One More Productions” 2022 Southern California Premiere Production of “The SpongeBob Musical” for making this story possible.