Who lives in a what, under the what? If you don’t know already, it’s pineapple, sea, and the answer is SpongeBob SquarePants — and by the way, where’ve you been?
Full disclosure: I never watched SpongeBob SquarePants. As cartoons go, SpongeBob, a collage of loud noises, goofy characters, exaggerated movements, and general ridiculousness, isn’t really my style — I’m more a Bugs Bunny or Rugrats sort. If my kids had watched SpongeBob, I might’ve seen a few episodes, but we’ve never had cable TV.
In light of that, I did NOT expect to like The SpongeBob Musical. To my surprise, I liked the show a lot the first time I saw it, and I was pleased to see it again, this time performed by Silhouette Stages at Slayton House in Columbia. The production is presented by a nonprofit community theater company, built on the back of love and volunteer hours, staged at a multi-use community center.
I liked this production even better than the first I saw. Yes, you read that right: even better. The cast demonstrates exuberance of spirit, the on-stage orchestra is outstanding, and the foley (sound effects) performer, Arielle Miller, demonstrates brilliant timing and has snappy moments of interaction with cast members. The SpongeBob Musical is full of candy-colored positivity and physical humor and features songs written by an array of A-list artists, including several personal favorites of mine.
Since I’d never watched any SpongeBob cartoons, there are things that puzzled me about the show: an underwater squirrel apparently wears an invisible, implied diving helmet. The villain is a tiny single-celled organism played by a full-sized human. The crab’s daughter is a whale in a cheerleader outfit, and there’s apparently a possibly dark backstory about that which isn’t in the show and anyway doesn’t matter to the story.
Co-directors Debbie Mobley and Robyn Yakaitis, both frequent actors, have a vision of immersive staging, a multi-generational cast, lively movement and dance, and plenty of physical comedy. Their interactions at the beginning of the show corralling a rogue character are smooth, and their directorial choices are sound.
The set, designed by Bill Pond, is composed of arrays of undersea flora, a screen with projected cartoon scenery conceived by Todd Hochkeppel as a backdrop, and modular mobile pieces for the rest. The focus is on the cast, who are simply stellar.
With a whopping ten cast members working with Silhouette Stages for their first time, one could think they mightn’t form a cohesive unit as an ensemble, and one would be wrong. Veteran performers mingle brilliantly with high school theater kids, recent college graduates, and folk returning to performance after a brief or lengthy hiatus. A variety of human shapes, ethnicities, and gender expressions are represented… but they are uniformly committed to the juicy cartoon aesthetic and ecstatic spirit of the show.
Our story requires an upbeat, enthusiastic main character actor to play SpongeBob. It’s the intensely funny Matt Wetzel who also needs a fantastic singing voice, since the title character carries two-thirds of the musical numbers. Wetzel’s voice fits the bill perfectly. As strong as he is on his own, I enjoyed Wetzel’s duets even more. He has two with Geraden Ward, who plays Patrick the Sea Star, SpongeBob’s best friend, with a gentle acceptance of his intellectual limitations: “BFF” (Plain White T’s) and “(I Guess I) Miss You” (John Legend). Later in Act II, in “Chop to the Top” (Lady A), Wetzel combines his vocal talent with that of Summer Dawn Moore, who plays Sandy Cheeks, the inventive underwater squirrel, in her debut with Silhouette Stages. Ensemble member and Choreographer Tori Worth produces lively, lyric-driven action in “BFF,” and Music Director Mari Hill leads Matt Wetzel and Geraden Ward in some incredibly satisfying harmonies in “(I Guess I) Miss You.”
Other remarkable vocal numbers in the show include “No Control” (David Bowie and Brian Eno), featuring the very excellent Mica Weiss as Perch Perkins, which is shadowy, foreboding, and full of doom, a testament to the outstanding work of Lighting Designer TJ Lukacsina; another duet, “Daddy Knows Best” (Alex Ebert), is a power struggle between Mr. Krabs, played with scuttley avarice by Robert Howard, and his daughter Pearl Krabs, played by Oakland Mills High School student Leah Freeman — and boy does that young lady have a set of pipes. Squidward Q. Tentacles, played in a different direction by Seth Fallon, gets his own number, “I’m Not a Loser” (They Might Be Giants), accompanied by some delightful surprise backup singers. The lyrics are terrific, Seth Fallon’s delivery is terrific, and the movement/dancing is ideal. One standout number, “(Just A) Simple Sponge,” features blacklights and backup dancers: Choreographer Tory Worth’s staging of the visuals is truly splendid.
I stopped taking notes for the final portion of the show. Instead I leaned forward to enjoy it, humming along to “Best Day Ever” (Andy Paley and Tom Kenny), which is the title of a song in a SpongeBob episode, the title of a SpongeBob episode (season 4), the final credits song in the 2004 SpongeBob movie, the title of the movie’s soundtrack album, and an online game that looks cute, but I’m evidently terrible at that sort of game.
Mica Weiss, who designed costumes for the show as well as portraying Perch Perkins, delivers splendid underwater wear for each of the cast members: The Mayor (played by Debbie Watts) looks mayoral, Old Man Jenkins (played by John Sheldon) looks like old man Jenkins, the pirates are piratical, and each of the outfits of the Ensemble adds to the visual depth of the production.
I’d like to reiterate that even a nonfan of SpongeBob can enjoy The SpongeBob Musical. If you’re a fan of happy, colorful, upbeat, catchy, enthusiastic entertainment, do your spirits a favor and catch this Best Play Ever while you can.
The Spongebob Musical plays through October 22, 2023, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM, and Sundays at 3:00 PM, presented by Silhouette Stages performing at Slayton House in the Wilde Lake Village Center, 10400 Cross Fox Lane Columbia, MD. Purchase tickets ($15–$24) online. For additional information, call 410-216-4499 or email [email protected]
COVID Safety: Masks are highly encouraged but not required. The theater’s full COVID Safety Plan policy is here.