Saturday, October 07, 2023

‘SpongeBob’ is Awash in Optimism at Silhouette Stages

f there was any question that the setting of The SpongeBob Musical now playing at Silhouette Stages takes place in a town called Bikini Bottom deep below the sea, here are some clues. The names of some of the characters include Sheldon Plankton, Squidward Q. Tentacles, Perch Perkins, Mr. Krabs, Larry the Lobster, and SpongeBob. Add those names to the sea-themed set designed by Bill Pond and the projections led by Todd Hochkeppel, the audience is called upon to imagine this undersea town and the goofy characters that inhabit it.

Under the polished direction of Debbie Mobley and Robyn Yakaitis, the exuberant and talented cast entertains with explosive energy and helps deliver a message of optimism, inclusion and coming together as a community in this eye-pleasing, colorful, fantasy romp. Powerful vocals, precise dancing and well-delivered comedic lines highlight the show that employs a large array of props and set pieces, which are becoming the norm at recent Silhouette Stages productions.

The SpongeBob Musical is an adaptation of Nickelodeon’s long-running animated children’s sitcom SpongeBob SquarePants created by Stephen Hillenberg. It features a book by Kyle Jarrow, with an eclectic array of original songs by Yolanda Adams, Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith, Sara Bareilles, Jonathan Coulton, Alexander 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., and songs by David Bowie, Tom Kenny and Andy Paley. Each song in the musical is composed by a different artist.

Additional lyrics are by Jonathan Coulton, with other music by Tom Kitt. The musical production was conceived by Tina Landau and received 12 Tony Award nominations in 2018 including Best Musical.

"...the exuberant and talented cast entertains with explosive energy..."

The zany, campy story centers on an impending eruption from nearby Mount Humongous that threatens to decimate the town and its colorful inhabitants within 48 hours. A perennially sunny and optimistic pineapple-dwelling sea sponge named SpongeBob (played zestfully by Matt Wetzel) sets out to save the town and prove he is not “just a simple sponge” as he was accused of being by miserly Mr. Krabs (Robert Howard), manager of the Krusty Krab restaurant.

With his BFF Patrick Star (Geraden Ward) and Sandy (Summer Moore)—a land mammal squirrel with scientific knowledge and who had been marginalized by the townsfolk in tow—SpongeBob attempts to climb Mount Humongous to intervene and prevent the seemingly inevitable eruption.

They endeavor to overcome their own lack of self-esteem and confidence as well as a pair of
antagonists, Sheldon Plankton (Adam Goldsmith) and his wife Karen (Jessica Long ) who want to thwart the effort. In the rather predictable conclusion, all works out despite the obstacles.

When I saw Sondheim on Sondheim recently at Silhouette Stages, I was impressed by Matt Wetzel who

Matt Wetzel

performed well in the show. But his tour de force as the title character in SpongeBob has taken him to a new level.

Though diminutive in stature, Mr. Wetzel has a big voice—and not just a big voice but a strong one. Throughout the production, I was worried that because of the many songs he participates in and the shouting he is called upon in the dialogue that his voice wouldn’t hold up. Happily, it remained robust through the end.

He literally bursts on the stage with energy that only Mount Humongous could hold. His role is physical with a lot of dancing and movements all over while his acting skills excel in portraying the cheery, carefree character.  He even tosses in a well-executed cartwheel for good measure.

Mr. Wetzel performs in many of the show’s songs with other members of the cast and stands out in the solos “Bikini Bottom Day” and the excellent “(Just a) Simple Sponge.” He is also wonderful in the snappy group number “Best Day Ever.”

As SpongeBob’s best friend Patrick, Geraden Ward brings their own set of talents to the fore. Geraden is also a competent vocalist as evident in the duet “BFF” and the outstanding group number “Super Sea-Star Savior” with a bunch of sardines, no less, which has a revival feel.

Patrick, a starfish, is kind of dim-witted. Yet, some of the Bikini Bottom residents including those sardines clad in pink and green costumes think Patrick is a genius and made him a guru of some sort, which threatened the BFF status with SpongeBob. Spoiler alert: they do reconcile and join forces to conquer Mt. Humongous. Geraden adeptly portrays that comedic character.

As the denigrated scientist-squirrel Sandy, Summer Moore is excellent. She came up with the invention, “the eruption interrupter” that was counted on to stem the eruption and eventual doom. Her lovely singing voice is on display in “Hero Is My Middle Name” with Mr. Wetzel and Mr. Ward and the duet “Chop to the Top” with Mr. Wetzel.

Seth Fallon as Squidward and his sea anemone chorus line

Seth Fallon deliciously plays the 4-legged octopus (yes, there are 4 legs) Squidward Q. Tentacles—my favorite name in the show. Constantly reminded of being a loser, Squidward is determined to overcome the label.

Mr. Fallon excels in the song “I’m Not a Loser,” a superb tap-dancing number with the company. Tap dancing is quite a skill to possess; dancing with 4 legs is definitely a challenge and Mr. Fallon pulls it off splendidly. In addition, his facial expressions and flamboyant demeanor throughout are worth the price of admission.

Robert Howard plays greedy Mr. Krabs, the manager of the Krusty Krab, with flair. Mr. Howard performs well with Leah Freeman who plays the role of Mr. Krabs’ daughter Pearl in the duet “Daddy Knows Best.”

Other notable members of the amazing cast include Adam Goldsmith and Jessica Long as the villains Sheldon Plankton and Karen, respectively; Don Lampasone as the comedic Patchy the Pirate;  Mica Weiss as campy Perch Perkins who performed as a newscaster counting down the time of the impending volcano eruption; Debbi Watts as the Mayor of Bikini Bottom who loves to create a multitude of task forces to analyze problems; Nick Yarnevich as Larry the Lobster; John Sheldon as Old Man Jenkins who demands that these creatures get off his lawn; and Forest Roca as Gary.

The Electric Skates is comprised of Shaelyn Betances, Kelsey McDaniel and Samantha Sheldon. The remainder of the Ensemble include Angela Cava, Katelyn Dixon, Bethany Jani, Al Norman, Tori Worth and Angie Townsend.

Music Director Mari Hill and the six-piece orchestra do a fine job with the score. Tori Worth’s choreography is spot-on with the tap-dancing number “I’m Not a Loser” as a standout. The cast execute the moves proficiently.

Mica Weiss designed the eclectic, colorful costumes. Since SpongeBob Square Pants is a cartoon, the imaginatively created costumes are suitably bright with pastels splashed all over them. Many of the costumes are intricate and eye-popping and add much to the spectacle. There are lots of pinks and greens as well as aqua shades and yellow. And yes, SpongeBob had little square patterns on his pants.

TJ Lukacsina’s lighting design adds much to the optics, and sound designers Ethan Hogarty and Alex Porter keep the performers audible without being overwhelmed by the orchestration.

The SpongeBob Musical is a solid show throughout highlighted by an outstanding lead performer Matt Wetzel and a talented cast and crew. Under Debbie Mobley and Robyn Yakaitis’ direction, the production moves smoothly and meticulously and brings all the elements together in a cohesive manner.

You may be up to your gills in sea and fish references, but it’s a lot of fun. Adults will enjoy the quality of the entertainment, the music and the messaging contained therein; children will absolutely love it and swallow it—hook, line and sinker.  

Running time. Two hours and 30 minutes with an intermission.

The SpongeBob Musical plays on weekends through October 22 at the Slayton House Theatre, 10400 Cross Fox Ln, Columbia, MD 21044. For tickets, call 410-730-3987 visit online

Photos: Stasia Steuart Photography

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