A reviews round-up for The SpongeBob Musical based on the much- loved SpongeBob SquarePants TV series.
The show ran on Broadway (bagging 12 Tony nominations), and now finally makes its way to the UK on a big tour, including a summer residency at the Queen Elizabeth Hall at London’s Southbank Centre for 5 weeks from 26 July to 26 August 2023.
Directed by Tara Overfield Wilkinson, the cast features Lewis Cornay as SpongeBob, Tom Read Wilson as Squidward at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, plus Divina de Campo as Sheldon J. Plankton, Irfan Damani as Patrick and Chrissie Bhima as Sandy. Gareth Gates is playing Squidward at selected venues, including London along with Tom Read Wilson.
Also in the cast are Richard J Hunt as Mr Krabs, Sarah Freer as Pearl, Eloise Davies as Mrs Puff,Hannah Lowther as Karen, Rebecca Lisewski as Mayor, plus Sam Beveridge Jeremiah Olaleye, Eleanor Turiansky, Rhys Batten and Reece Kerridge.
The show is based on the series by Stephen Hillenburg, with a book by Kyle Jarrow and original songs by Yolanda Adams, Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith, Sara Bareilles, Jonathan Coulton, Alex Ebert of Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, The Flaming Lips, Lady A, Cyndi Lauper, John Legend, Panic! At the Disco, Plain White T’s, They Might Be Giants and T.I.
It also features songs by David Bowie, Tom Kenny and Andy Paley. Additional lyrics are by Jonathan Coulton, additional music by Tom Kitt, and the musical production is conceived by Tina Landau.
The SpongeBob Musical creative team is completed by choreographer Fabian Aloise, designer Steve Howell, Musical Supervisor Mark Crossland, Musical Director Marcus Carter-Adams, Costume Designer Sarah Mercade, Lighting and Video Designer Ben Bull, Sound Designer Ben Harrison, Costume and Wig Supervisor Megan Rarity, Associate Choreographer Paris Green and Casting Director Harry Blumenau Casting. Selladoor Worldwide are the General Managers.
The reviews below are from critics including The Times and The Stage, who saw the show at the Birmingham Hippodrome, and critics reviewing the show in London at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in August 2023. More reviews to follow.
This article was first published on 17 April 2023 for the show’s first night on tour at the Birmingham Hippodrome. Republished on 4 August 2023.
The SpongeBob Musical reviews
"This exuberantly cheerful show will charm the sceptics" (Queen Elizabeth Hall London)
"Don’t be fooled by the premise – bringing SpongeBob to the stage works better than you might expect"
"Did we really need a song-and-dance adaptation of a kids’ cartoon about a nerdy sponge who lives in a pineapple under the sea? By the end of the show, I was nodding “yes”, singing along with the theme tune with hundreds of others, and thoroughly won over by its exuberant and contagious positivity."
"As the eponymous SpongeBob, Lewis Cornay is a delight."
"The music is bubbly enough, but it does miss out on a uniform sound to bring it all together. The cast, however, is excellent. Though SpongeBob is our central figure, there’s no shortage of talent among the ensemble and supporting cast."
"This loopy cartoon spin-off has us hooked" (Birmingham Hippodrome)
"Unfamiliar with SpongeBob SquarePants? Not to worry. This bright, shiny and cartoonishy camp new touring production offers novices, including me and the theatre-loving friend I invited to see it, an opportunity for positive change."
"... you may find yourself smitten with the experience well before the finale."
"It is nothing if not animated, bouncing along in a consistently smartly silly manner that happily infects all aspects of the production."
"Lewis Cornay’s tirelessly terrific SpongeBob is well-supported by, among others, Irfan Damani’s dopey starfish Patrick"
"Lewis Cornay’s voice is a wonder" (Birmingham Hippodrome)
"Joyful UK premiere of the daft, colourful musical about an underwater sponge"
"... a mostly new and mostly brilliant production by director Tara Overfield Wilkinson."
"Just to be clear, this is not a jukebox musical. They have not done a Rock of Ages on that animated sponge. With the exception of a couple of numbers from SpongeBob episodes and that Bowie reworking, these are all original songs."
"True, this touring production is not its best incarnation. It needs to be slicker, tighter, more controlled to earn its sense of chaos and dissolution... But it is all still a lurid delight, especially the colourful costumes by Sarah Mercadé, which deviate cleverly from the beautiful Broadway creations."
"Lewis Cornay’s relentlessly optimistic SpongeBob dominates the show. His voice is a wonder: not only does he hit every ridiculous note thrown at him, but he also manages to keep the strained, throaty SpongeBob voice while doing so."
"The UK premiere of this musical spin-off of the cult cartoon is fun but saccharine and could have done with a bigger budget" (Queen Elizabeth Hall, London)
"... what some might read as a bleak satire on the mind prison of capitalism, the makers of this musical adaptation deem a peppy story for kids, and they largely succeed in creating a fun, panto-esque show for summer holiday crowds."
"Kyle Jarrow’s relentlessly saccharine book is light on both suspense and laughs, and this production’s declamatory straight-to-audience acting style and cringey moments of innuendo don’t help on either count. Still, choreographer Fabian Aloise delivers some spirited dance routines (the number with glo-in-the-dark sponges is a highlight) and the score is a total joy."
"... Lewis Cornay is just the right side of annoying, and his voice reveals astonishing depths"
"Squidward is played by a very funny Gareth Gates"
"To adults this is a noisy neon nightmare" (Queen Elizabeth Hall, London)
"The stage iteration of the unstoppable children’s TV juggernaut might not match its Stateside success in the UK, but there’s warmth and camaraderie there"
"We are now well into the summer silly season – and things are unlikely to get much more daft than this. Here comes the stage iteration of the unstoppable Nickelodeon children’s TV juggernaut, a musical so successful Stateside that it was the joint most-nominated production at the 2018 Tony Awards. Call me a cynic, but I doubt that this version is going to be troubling next year’s Oliviers in quite the same style."
"There is no getting around it: the 70-minute first half of Tara Overfield Wilkinson’s production is the sternest theatrical endurance test I have faced all year. Yet to my considerable surprise, in the second half the warmth and camaraderie of the storyline and the undoubtedly committed cast started to wear down my resistance."
"Parents who have already taken their offspring to the Barbie movie might want to consider this, but there is less here to amuse the grown-ups."
"Nickleodeon’s SpongeBob musical" (Birmingham Hippodrome)
"The cast is led gamely by Lewis Cornay’s SpongeBob, a schoolboy geek with a heart of gold. Divina De Campo plays Sheldon J Plankton, a routine baddie with dreams of seabed domination. De Campo is an underpowered Julian Clary."
"Songs ebb and flow. The dialogue washes over you. Minor characters float by without causing much offence."
"Rarely gets above water" (Queen Elizabeth Hall, London)
"This stage musical isn’t cynical, just thin"
"It feels odd to give a much-loved kids’ TV character a critical hosing: but this one, at least, can soak it up... the antics of this jaunty Aplysina Fistularis – yes, I looked it up – and his underwater mates don’t translate into a 150-minute musical. Especially one with a clunkily contemporary political message, where all the money has been spent on a strange assortment of famous names rather than on the staging."
"The vestigial plot is largely irrelevant to the recycling of tropes from the TV show and a vague message that we should love each other and ourselves."
"It’s performed with rictus-conviction by the ensemble and an onstage band, on two-dimensional sets augmented with discarded plastic bottles and gold-sprayed dustbins."
"Lewis Cornay is perhaps too knowing and preppily teenage as the naïve SpongeBob but De Campo and Wilson give good value"