I didn’t want it to end until I fell on the deck and collapsed like a fish. This is how the delicious production of Parkland The musical SpongeBob SquarePants is – you won’t want to leave. Musicals have to earn my trust and my time. I’m a theater nerd but I’m definitely more a game than a musical but it’s a musical playing and it’s pure bliss.
When community theater comes together as it does in the hands of director Chelsea Collier, the results are magical. The combination of the sparkling talents of community members, Parkland College students, and University of Illinois students on stage and in the band gives the production better value for money. The universe of Bikini Bottom and its famous inhabitant who lives in a pineapple under the sea will remind you of community spirit.
I don’t bury the lede and I’ll get straight to the point. The three best friends, Laramie Ziegler’s SpongeBob, Jerry Strain’s Patrick and Jason Brooks Shaw’s Sandy have nothing to envy to the brilliance of Broadway. I am not exaggerating. Ziegler was born to play Spongebob. The vocal and physical range inhabited by Ziegler will not be contained by the central Illinois theater. This one’s for a world beyond Bikini Bottom, so check it out now before you have to shell out $850 to sit behind the pit in Chicago or New York. Yes, he is that good.
Jerry Strain, who as the notes say is Ziegler’s best friend in real life, plays his best friend Patrick, a cone-headed starfish. I don’t know why knowing that is even more special, but it is and their onstage chemistry will have you crying during John Legend’s moving “(I Guess I) Miss You.”
Jacob Alfonso’s operatic Plankton, Haley Brown’s heartfelt Squidward, Ares Jordan’s magnetic Mr. Krabs and Excellence Onalundula’s incredible Pearl also captivate audiences with their dynamic vocals and authentic stage performances.
The music is spectacular. Literally. With original songs by John Legend, Cyndi Lauper, Steven Tyler and Joe Perry, They Might Be Giants, Panic! At Disco, Bowie & Eno (first names not necessary), The Flaming Lips, and more, one might fear it’s rambling and driven by the need for a hit single. But we would be wrong. Music creates the world and reveals character while supporting the story. The onstage presence of talented musicians, under the direction of Cheryl Forest Morganson, provides the energy and fuel to make you want to dance as they arrive at the climactic rendition of “Best Day Ever,” which Ziegler and his company interpret with exquisite precision.
Elliot Reza Emadian’s choreography, reminiscent of their stunning work in Lyric Theater’s 2020 production of Latrelle Bright’s U of I Cabaretis elegant in its simplicity and collaboration with this extraordinary cast.
Sheri Doyle’s costumes, especially Mariah Smith’s Karen the Computer, add enormous depth to the surreal carnival atmosphere on stage. Rob Perry’s lighting design and Molly Ilten-Fulan’s multi-level set draw you into the sparkling world of Bikini Bottom as soon as you enter the theatre.
I’m not a fan of musicals. There are a few that I really like because, like I said, I’m a scene nerd. I loved watching my own children in local productions of classics such as Oklahoma! and fiddler on the roof, but I probably only enjoyed them because I knew the kids from the show and loved the theater as an educational space. When I heard of The musical SpongeBob SquarePants in 2016-2017, I rolled my eyes. Tired of the Disneyfication of Broadway and the musical world, even though it was Nickelodeon instead of Disney, I wrote it as something I might see when I’m 80 and one of my kids takes me see Cher impersonators review SpongeBob in Vegas in 2047.
Photo by Brian Heaton.
I was wrong. You don’t have to be a fan of Nickelodeon’s absorbing, yellow, porous main character who carried on 13 seasons with his undying optimism and tireless work ethic to love this musical. Like spectacle, friendship, heroism, kindness and love of neighbor are at the center of this whimsical allegory of climate change. Unfortunately, history is an all-too-familiar tale of fear-driven blame and finger-pointing in the face of unwavering scientific evidence of environmental destruction and its consequences. Even with the weight of this message, you will laugh, you will cry, you will dance and you will cheer because you can’t help but be absorbed in this delicious journey to Bikini Bottom.
The Harold and Jean Miner Theater in Parkland was packed with kids of all ages which made the theater experience even better. Little kids answering Patrick Star and laughing with Spencer Hazen’s dizzying Patchy the Pirate is what makes live theater the best of all worlds.
We need Spongebob the hero, and we need The musical SpongeBob SquarePants at this time and in this place. It’s a show put on by a community for a community. It’s no spoiler to say that Bikini Bottom is saved from destruction and the evil plot of Plankton and Karen the Computer by the love and commitment of three best friends, all of whom have special talents and undying love. one for the other. I know there are parents who wouldn’t let their children watch Spongebob on TV. I’ve never really understood this position because, other than Lisa Simpson, SpongeBob is by far the most positive, optimistic, kind and positive role model a child could wish for. His heartfelt optimism beats Squidward’s sarcasm every week, and in this musically perfect blend of these timeless characters in a timely story, love and friendship prevail. Your heart will sing. Bring your children. Bring your neighbours’ children. Bring your best friend. Don’t miss this rare opportunity to experience pure joy in the communal space of one of our most beloved theatres.