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The SpongeBob Musical 
Hugely popular TV phenomenon comes to life on the Oriental Theatre stage 
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  WELL, Broadway in Chicago has done it again, shining the spotlight brightly on another pre-Broadway, world-premiere show, and this one focuses on one of TV’s most popular cartoon characters––SpongeBob SquarePants. 
   The SpongeBob Musical, which premieres on June 7 and runs through July 10 at the Oriental Theatre, is based on Nickelodeon’s animated, long-running and wildly popular SpongeBob SquarePants, a show that not only appeals to wide-eyed kids but to many of their parents as well. With the pre-Broadway musical hitting the stage, the fictional underwater city of Bikini Bottom and its characters are positioned to reach an entirely new audience. “This is one of those times when the excitement really starts to build, where we start to celebrate the creative behind something new and magical,” Lou Raizin, president of Broadway in Chicago, said during an introduction of the cast and creative team. “Anytime that this type of risk is taken on a show, it’s that sprinkle of magic dust that ultimately allows the show to succeed. We’re convinced that magic dust has been sprinkled here. Pre-Broadway is a wonderful thing, and anytime we are able to celebrate that moment and help shepherd that show on its way to Broadway is really a wonderful occasion. SpongeBob is one of those creative, magical types of things that happen on stage.”
   On stage, the show––at Nickelodeon’s request––isn’t a simple replica of the TV show. Tina Landau, award-winning Steppenwolf writer, director and ensemble member at the theater, says the musical’s creators were encouraged to be creatively driven. Surprising to some observers––in a big show that has a big brand––there was no corporate mandate about what to do, and further, TV executives didn’t want to use this vehicle to sell products associated with the show, which already has generated more than $8 billion in merchandising revenue. “Nickelodeon wanted something new, and I think we’re honoring the TV series,” says Landau, the musical’s director, “but also finding new, unexpected ways to kind of wake it up and turn it on its head while remaining true to the spirit of SpongeBob.”
   In establishing the story, the creators––led by Obie Award-winning writer Kyle Jarrow––wanted to come up with an idea that is emotionally gratifying, suspenseful and has something that appeals to audiences of all ages. It appears that they have done so. SpongeBob, a fry cook at the Krusty Krab, is no stranger to attracting trouble, but in this scenario he stumbles upon some frightening news that Bikini Bottom could be destroyed by sundown the next day. “What we have set in motion is a very high-stakes scenario where all of the characters of Bikini Bottom react in different ways,” Landau says, “but it really [is left up] to SpongeBob to save the day. We’ve tried to allow the story to have heart and investment, but also SpongeBob’s kind of optimism and naiveté.” 

​   Aside from the storyline, The SpongeBob Musical features an original score, created by one of the most impressive collections of big-name music artists to contribute to such a production ––Cyndi Lauper. John Legend, Aerosmith, Lady Antebellum, T.I., Sara Bareilles, Yolanda Adams, Plain White T’s, The Flaming Lips and Jonathan Coulton. Each one wrote a tune specifically for a moment in the story, giving audiences one fantastic song after another in this one-of-a-kind musical event. As an added touch, the show also includes a song by the legendary David Bowie.
   The music flows fluidly and blends with the kinetic energy of the amazing cast that’s led by the high-spirited Ethan Slater as SpongeBob. Others in Bikini Bottom include Gavin Lee (Squidward), Nick Blaemire (Plankton), Lilli Cooper (Sandy Cheeks), Carlos Lopez (Mr. Krabs) and Danny Skinner (Patrick). 
   The SpongeBob Musical is another in a long line of pre-Broadway world premieres brought to Chicago by Broadway in Chicago, including productions such as six-time Tony Award-winner Kinky Boots (returning to Chicago from August 30 through September 4) and Sting’s The Last Ship, which received two Tony nominations. The SpongeBob Musical is believed to be on the same track that could lead to Tony Award recognition. But for right now, it’s all about the new and exciting adventures of SpongeBob, his undersea friends and the power of optimism. As Landau says in reference to the SpongeBob phenomenon: “SpongeBob is a presence and a spirit that is here to say, ‘Let’s have the best day ever!’”
–– Walter Leavy
A select number of premium tickets are available for many performances of The SpongeBob Musical. Group tickets for 10 or more are available by calling Broadway in Chicago Group Sales at 312/977-1710. Tickets are available at all Broadway in Chicago box offices (24 W. Randolph Street, 151 W. Randolph Street, 18 W. Monroe Street and 175 E. Chestnut), the Broadway in Chicago ticket line at 800/775-2000, all Ticketmaster retail locations and online at www.broadwayinchicago.com. 
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"You get from Steppenwolf to Bikini Bottom by understanding they are two sides of the same coin. It can operate as a family-friendly show, and it can operate as a cool date-night show."
                                                                             –– Tina Landau
Some members of the cast and creative team of The SpongeBob Musical were introduced during a press conference at the Oriental Theatre.
An expressive Tina Landau, director of The SpongeBob Musical, talks about the show and cast.