Take what you know about SpongeBob SquarePants and set it aside.
“The SpongeBob Musical” isn’t a slapstick, yuck-it-up journey through the iconic show’s catalog and that, participants say, is why audiences should check it out. Springfield Little Theatre’s production of the show runs June 10-26 at the Landers Theatre.
“If you love musical theatre, I really say this brings all the best elements of musical theatre to you,” said Lorianne Dunn, the show’s director. “Whether you are a fan of the cartoon or not, the story on its own is a worthwhile story. It’s so entertaining.”
What is that story? Here’s a preview with no spoilers: A volcano is going to erupt tomorrow and possibly destroy Bikini Bottom, where the SpongeBob world is set.
“You see how all the different crazy citizens of Bikini Bottom react in these circumstances,” Dunn said. “Everybody has a different spin on how they act. There’s someone who’s going to exploit, there’s someone who’s going to try to control, there’s someone who’s going to look for somebody to follow and needs someone to lead. That’s kind of what it does on one level.”
More than just SpongeBob silliness
But, the cast says, there is a whole other level to the show. They talk about themes of community and friendship, acceptance and teamwork. And, somehow, it connects with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I can’t believe it wasn’t written during this time, but it was a little before that,” Dunn said. “They have five minutes left and they ultimately decide what they’re going to choose to do is have the best day ever, as SpongeBob says, and be with each other. They don’t know what’s going to happen, they don’t know if they’re going to live or they’re going to die, but they decide it’s about the community and who they’re with in that moment and how they choose to work together.”
The cast that is working together on “SpongeBob the Musical” has differing levels of experience, from young children to SLT newcomers to veterans. There are 64 performers in the show, including double-cast roles for SpongeBob, Patrick Starfish and Sandy Cheeks.
“I think it’s always challenging going into a new group because these people get so close,” said Claire Caubré, one of two actresses cast as Sandy. This is her first SLT show after moving to Springfield from St. Louis. “They spend so much time together and it can be really intimidating to come in. But this group was so welcoming from the very first day I felt like I’d been here 100 years. It was so cool how they welcomed us in and I think feeling welcomed like that really took away the nerves of being able to then go ahead and explore and play in this space when I’m not worried about other people.”
Trisha Baker, another newcomer who plays Penny the Whale, experienced the same thing.
“It took us a while to realize both of us were new because everyone’s so welcoming,” Baker said. “We made close connections with people so fast. It’s magic here. I’ve never worked with anything like this. It’s been magic to be here.”
Bringing iconic characters to life
Part of the challenge of the show is portraying well-known and well-loved characters. Eli DePriest and Andrew Wilson are playing the role of SpongeBob. They’ve both worked hard to nail SpongeBob’s iconic laugh and more. It’s a challenge they’re enjoying.
“It’s fun whenever you take on a character who’s so positive and so uplifting it comes into your personal life and you start feeling more positive and more happy in real life,” Wilson said.
“He’s a title name,” DePriest said. “You hear him everywhere, you see him everywhere still. To follow kind of a legacy that so many creative people put together for over 20 years and to try to match the silliness and just the confidence and the absolute fearlessness that this character has to lead is a challenge.”
The challenge for Kaleb Norman and Patrick Mulheron is playing the character of Patrick the Starfish, SpongeBob’s best friend. Norman is more than prepared. He grew up obsessed with Patrick.
“I had Patrick boxers and Pez dispensers and plushies,” Norman said. “And I even have a Patrick tattoo that I got before I knew we were doing this show.”
Mulheron doesn’t rise to that level of fandom, but — like many on the cast — he’s a longtime fan of SpongeBob.
“I changed my name for this show,” he joked. “The way the Sponge Bog lore is woven into this story is really cool. There’s little bits of dialogue here and there that are glimpses from past episodes.”
Norman calls the show an escape, even with the parallels to the COVID age, and the SLT crew is working hard on helping audiences escape, from the stage design to lobby decor. Joshua David Smith, who plays Squidward, agrees.
“I’m really excited about it because it truly is a spectacle from the moment you walk in the lobby doors,” Smith said. “You’re just immersed in this world. And, really, there’s a lot of breaking the fourth wall between the audience and the characters. I’m just so excited for audiences to experience this journey with us.”
Smith has a unique challenge: he plays a character with tentacles and wears a four-legged costume.
“I had to relearn how to do everything,” Smith said. “There is some weight to it, which kind of throws off my center of gravity, but luckily I was able to start working with it pretty soon in the process. So it’s a part of me now.”
It took a talented team to create that costume and the whole show. Dunn credits musical director Carla Wootton, vocal director Clayton Avery, acting coach Jessica Bower and so many more people who are making the show happen.
“Theatre is a collaborative art and a show like this just magnifies that,” Dunn said. “We’ve even had some of our students get in the studio with me and we worked together to create the choreography. There are 64 in the cast and then there are probably 50 or 60 more volunteers that have had their hands on something, even outside of cast members. People came in to make the sea life out of pool noodle creations, or to paint tires or barrels or the things that have presumably fallen to the ocean floor that make up the world of the show.”
You can immerse yourself in that world. Tickets are available at the Landers Theatre box office, by calling 417-302-4888 or visiting the Springfield Little Theatre website.
How to get involved
Want to be part of Springfield Little Theatre? They want your help.
“There’s a place for you here at Springfield Little Theatre,” Dunn said. “You don’t have to have any special skills. There are ways to help progress (the show) forward and we can help you through it. So don’t feel like you have to know how to sew, or you have to know how to use a power tool, because you don’t.”
If you’d like to volunteer, call the office at 417-302-4888.