“The SpongeBob Musical” at the Coterie Is 70 Minutes of Exceptional Silliness

The cast of SpongeBob the Musical performs a group number.

The cast of “The SpongeBob Musical,” led by Tyler Fromson (Photo by Jordan Rice courtesy of The Coterie Theatre)

When “SpongeBob Squarepants: The Broadway Musical” debuted on Broadway in 2017, reviews for the show were shockingly impressive. The play, based on the iconic Nickelodeon animated series, was called “exhaustingly imaginative” by the New York Times and “inspired nonsense” by the New Yorker. The production called itself (via the sign hanging outside its own theater) “The Broadway Musical for Everyone”–meaning it was designed to entertain regular Broadway audiences, kids, nostalgic millennials, and everyone in between.

Yet as stellar as SpongeBob’s reviews were, the two-hour, twenty-minute runtime (not to mention the price of a Broadway theatre ticket) was sure to be prohibitive for plenty of young children.

Enter the Coterie Theatre’s brand-new 70-minute adaptation. Retitled “The SpongeBob Musical for Young Audiences,” the new version maintains the impressive heart of the original while streamlining it to make it more accessible for some of SpongeBob’s youngest fans. (The recommended age for the show is five and up.) 

Whole subplots and entire characters have been cut but what remains is far from bare-bones. This still feels like the musical for nearly everyone. Kids are basically guaranteed to be delighted, as are those nostalgic millennials. But even parents with little to no knowledge of the original Nickelodeon show are likely to have a pretty great time.

In “The SpongeBob Musical,” the characters populating the undersea town of Bikini Bottom are presented with clean simplicity. There are no prosthetics, elaborate face makeup, or giant sponge costumes. Tyler Fromson plays SpongeBob in a shirt and short red tie, exuding big “Book of Mormon” peppiness. Mr. Krabs’ claws are represented by dual red baseball gloves. The glum Squidward’s status as a humanoid cephalopod is displayed through a second set of legs sewn into his trousers–an effective gag that fully pays off with an extended tap dancing routine in one of the show’s best numbers, “I’m Not a Loser.”

The sense of simplicity is deliberately cultivated, from the jellyfish made of paper lanterns and crepe paper hanging as house lights through the theater, to the foley artist (Ava Woleskey) performing sound effects live onstage. While the play itself captures the unceasing silliness of the original cartoon, the straightforward aesthetic makes the show feel accessible for even the most begrudging adult companions.

The highlight of the Coterie’s production, like the original before it, is the music, which comes from an impossibly eclectic range of talented musicians. Sara Bareilles, They Might Be Giants, John Legend, and Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler and Joe Perry are just a few of the stars to provide songs. Jonathan Coulton, famed folk/geek/comedy singer-songwriter with an intense cult following, provided a number of key songs, as well as additional lyrics.

For this new production, co-directors Jeff Church and Zach Faust have put together a cast worthy of a world premiere. As SpongeBob, Fromson’s bubbly energy and impressive pipes make him a captivating anchor, and the supporting cast is solid across the board. Particular standouts are Nik Whitcomb as SpongeBob’s best friend Patrick and Amari Lewis as squirrel scientist Sandy Cheeks. While heavily streamlined, “The Spongebob Musical” still includes a weighty subplot about xenophobia and anti-science hysteria, with the townspeople turning on the “land mammal,” choosing to blame her for an impending natural disaster looming over the residents of Bikini Bottom. Lewis works this range with composure, capturing Sandy’s squirrelly sunniness while also giving the show some emotional heft.

The Coterie has established itself as a source for excellent, expertly produced theatre geared specifically to young audiences, with shows that still give adults plenty to enjoy. “The SpongeBob Musical” is no exception. Indeed, Kansas City should be proud of this production. To have such an exceptional world premiere come out of the area really is a nice feather in our cultural cap.

“The SpongeBob Musical for Young Audiences” runs through January 2, 2022 at the Coterie Theatre in Crown Center, 2450 Grand Blvd. For more information, call (816) 474-6552 or visit thecoterie.org

**Due to the positive COVID-19 test result of a cast member December 22nd, and the risk alert in Jackson County now raised to a severe risk, remaining performances of The SpongeBob Musical through January 2nd have been cancelled.** 

Vivian Kane

Vivian Kane is a writer living in Kansas City. She covers pop culture and politics for a national audience at The Mary Sue and theatre and film locally, with bylines in The Pitch. She has an MFA in Theatre from CalArts.

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