'The SpongeBob Musical' at Blank Canvas Theatre is a Fast-Paced Delight for All Ages

Catch a ride on this bubble

click to enlarge 'The SpongeBob Musical' at Blank Canvas Theatre is a Fast-Paced Delight for All Ages
Photo credit: Andy Dudik

Doom is imminent. The world could end in another day or two. Everyone will be killed. Is this a dystopian horror story conceived by a paranoid fearmonger? Is it a dismal look at our world in the throes of climate change? Nope, it's the bubbly and happy show called The SpongeBob Musical, a fave with lots of people over five, some of them a whole lot over five.

This musical spinoff from the uber-popular animated TV show (and a series of films) has found itself on the tiny stage at Blank Canvas Theatre. And thanks to director Patrick Ciamacco, who is a wizard at downsizing huge musical productions without losing a gram of energy or excitement, this production is a fast-paced, Jello-colored delight.

For the uninitiated, it's all about SpongeBob SquarePants, a simple (?) yellow sponge who lives at the bottom of the sea in a town called Bikini Bottom (named after the Bikini Atoll or the fact that when sponges look up through tropical water, that's probably all they see). But this is no squishy kitchen sink sponge, Bob is an ever-optimistic sponge with big plans for his life—embodied in the actor Zach Palumbo.

Many of SpongeBob's aquatic pals are in attendance. This includes his neighbor, a contentious calamari named Squidward Q. Tentacles (hilarious and almost bio-luminescent David L. Munnell wearing Four-legged khakis and Dockers); best-friend-forever Patrick Star (a game Louis Schwartz); and the bloviating capitalist crustacean Eugene Krabs (Kevin Kelly whose verbal pincers are in fine form).

Our spongey hero wants more than being the fry cook at Krabs' Krusty Krab diner, but those plans are interrupted by those ominous tremors. The not-so-nail-biting story spins out in the book by Kyle Jarrow and songs written by a collection of stellar performers (David Bowie, Cyndi Lauper, John Legend) and others. As a result, musical consistency has been thrown overboard like so much chum. But like chum, it winds up attracting the audience with its wit, irreverence and heart.

Of course, every musical must have a villain and that role is filled by Sheldon Plankton and his sidekick Karen the Computer (Sarah Farris). Plankton, while only a tiny protozoa, has huge evil plans and Jabri Johnson makes them sizzle in the lively number "When the Going Gets Tough," with help from Liz Baumgartner's kickass choreography. The one hope for the town is SpongeBob's squirrel friend Sandy Cheeks (Alexis Maxine)—yes, she's an amphibious squirrel, you have a problem with that?

Subplots attach themselves to the festive body of this musical like happy barnacles. There are sardines who form a cult around Patrick's mundane thoughts and there are sea anemones who form a chorus when Munnell's Squidward sings his guts out in "I'm Not a Loser."

But most of all, there are uplifting messages aplenty as the townfolk await their fate. The book takes a few limp attempts at satire, with the Mayor (Alicia Diamond) trotting out a riff of bureaucratic nonsense ("I'll form a committee to develop a plan..."). But satire doesn't last long in the face of SpongeBob's indomitable cheerfulness and Sandy's high-tech bubble technology, her "Erupter Interrupter."

There is a multitude of clever staging devices created by Ciamacco and his design team (Perren Hdderson, set design, projection design, scenic artist; Noah Hrbek, animation and projection content design; and Merrill Edleman, sound design). These effects are enhanced by the skills of music director Matthew Dolan, costume designer Jennifer Sparano, and others.

Thanks to all their fine work, you'll leave floating on a bubble. I suggest you catch a ride.

The SpongeBob Musical
Through August 21 at Blank Canvas Theatre, 78th Street Studios, 1305 West 78th St., Suite 211, 440-941-0458, www.blankcanvastheatre.com
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Christine Howey

Christine Howey has been reviewing theater since 1997, first at Cleveland Free Times and then for other publications including City Pages in Minneapolis, MN and The Plain Dealer. Her blog, Rave and Pan, also features her play reviews. Christine is a former stage actor and director, primarily at Dobama Theatre...
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