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Edited and Published by Robert W. McDowell

August 18, 2022 Issue
PART 2 (August 14, 2022)

A FREE Weekly E-mail Newsletter Covering Theater, Dance, Music, and Film in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill/Carrboro Area of North Carolina Since April 2001.


Have a Ball at SpongeBobSquarePants: The Musical at NRACT!

On Aug. 12-28, NRACT will journey to Bikini Bottom for SpongeBob SquarePants: The Musical (photo by Elizabeth Marie Anderson)

NOTE: I agreed to review this show because I decided that it would be fun to bring Carra*, my six year-old granddaughter, with me -- fun for her and for me. Boy was I correct! -- K.B.

A successful performance of a musical relies on the singing, the dancing, the acting, the scenery, and the sound. But more than that: unless the cast is obviously enjoying themselves, the audience will never be sufficiently drawn in to thoroughly appreciate the show. And the cast of the North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre's current production of SpongeBob SquarePants: The Musical is having a ball! So, get ready -- you will, too. Director Thomas Mauney, music director Mary Kathryn Walston, and choreographer Jess Barbour, should, indeed. be proud!

From the moment that we met Patchy the Pirate (Drake Davis), in a preshow bit, to the show's final ensemble number ("SpongeBob Theme Song"), Friday's opening-night audience was alternately laughing and swaying to the music, at times singing along.

Premiering in 2016 and opening on Broadway in December 2017, SpongeBob SquarePants: The Musical is based on Stephen Hillenburg's animated Nickelodeon TV series SpongeBob SquarePants. With book by Kyle Jarrow, the musical production was conceived by Tina Landau, and features songs by a plethora of artists.** It received 12 Tony Award® nominations in 2018.

The plot is simple-but-complex -- "simply complex."

The main plot: "Bikini Bottom," the community in which SpongeBob and his cohorts live, is threatened to be destroyed by a soon-to-erupt volcano; and a number of possible solutions to the problem surface (one of which is "science").

Subplots include the future of The Krusty Krab restaurant's management as well as a fiendish plot on the part of its competitor, The Chum Bucket. We also witness characters with artistic ambitions, xenophobic fear of "lung-breathers," friction between the government and the press, and an interesting case of hero worship. It would seem that every character has an agenda.

Most important, however, there is the question: Can SpongeBob save Bikini Bottom (and achieve other goals), or is he "just a simple sponge"?

The show is definitely well cast. Indeed, the enthusiasm exuded by the entire cast, ensemble included, bolsters the performances of each individual actor.

Side Note: Although the characters that we meet in this production are based on cartoon characters, they are all developed well beyond the two-dimensionality that one might expect.

Katherine Pearce's SpongeBob is endearing, start-to-finish, displaying a wide variety of smiles in her expressions and the appropriate degrees of optimism and earnestness. Dan Cerullo imbues his Patrick Star with the right mixture of well-meaning intentions and self-absorption (when he gets adoring attention from a school of sardines). Will friendship prevail? Amber Lynn creates a Sandy Cheeks that is a perfect complement to SpongeBob and Patrick. The trio perform together well.

Rhonda Lemon deftly portrays Squidward Q. Tentacles as a "wannabe" singer, all the while showcasing her own talent as actor-singer-dancer. And we must tip our hats to the design of this character's costume -- a technical masterpiece.

In the hands of Thomas Matrejek and Heather Shinpaugh, the diabolical duo of Sheldon J. Plankton and Karen the Computer are endearingly evil.

There is an appreciable amount of chemistry between Eugene Krabs (Bryce Nasir) and his daughter Pearl (Marie Ann Del Vaile Coppin). Will she be allowed to follow her dream? Or required to follow his?

LaToya Smith captures the situational nuances of the Mayor; and Lindsey Atkins and Hunter Taylor are solid as Mrs. Puff and Old Man Jenkins.

And I must mention the gamut of facial expressions through which Alec Donaldson runs when, as Perch Perkins, he makes the microphone-in-hand news announcements. Side note: Had the program not also credited Donaldson as the "French Narrator," nobody would have considered it possible to perform both roles seamlessly.

NRACT will stage SpongeBob SquarePants: The Musical on Aug. 12-14, 19-21, and 26-28 (photo by Elizabeth Marie Anderson)

All the dance numbers are well-choreographed and performed, the ensemble numbers stick out in my mind the most. Seeing Patrick Star joined by a bunch of Sardines (with tambourines) on "Super Sea-Star Savior" was a joy; even more so was watching SpongeBob and a troupe of Sea Anemones perform "I'm Not a Loser." Kudos to the cast and choreographer Jess Barbour and tap choreographer Freddie Lee Heath.

Thanks to music director Mary Kathryn Walston, the singing is just as delightful.

Director Thomas Mauney is credited as "Production Designer." I assume that he is responsible for the design of the set that cleverly includes various beach-ish details. Pay attention, as you enter the theater, to how the set actually begins well before the edge of the stage. (I assume that Mauney also designed the lighting -- both general and situational. Also well done.)

Sounder designer Todd Houseknecht does his usual superb job.

An enigma: This show includes an incredible number of costumes, very imaginative, very appropriate, and very well-made. Yet the program only credits a "Costume Assistant" (Elizabeth Anderson). Let the record simply state: The costuming of this show is a definite feather-in-the-cap of the person(s) responsible.

Additionally, the cast did an amazing job of quick-change artistry numerous times.

From the Department of Picky-Picky:

  1. There were times throughout the performance when the accompanying music was loud enough to overshadow and even drown out the voice (and therefore the lyrics) of solo numbers.
  2. As is often the case, this cane-wielding critic could offer a few tips regarding acting as though one depends on a cane for support and mobility. A useful mantra: "Without my cane, I am not able." Internalize that, and you will hit the cane-wielding nail on the head every time.

Final word: This show can accurately be labeled a "show for kids," but there are plenty of "Easter Eggs" in the dialogue to amuse the adult ear. Such gems as "not a chance in kelp," "scape squirrel," "I love it when you alliterate," "erupter interrupter," and "triple negative" kept me on my toes. And there are more than a few sight gags to please the adult pallette.

Seriously though, this is a show-for-all-ages, and if you bring a six year-old with you, you will have the added "side-show" of their reactions and appreciation of the product brought to the stage by this talented cans and crew.

*Miscellaneous reactions from Carra:

"That guy's hilarious!"

"I love SpongeBob!"

"This is the best movie I ever saw!"

(One fellow audience member approached me to say: "Her commentary made the show that much more fun."

**Original songs by Yolanda Adams, Alex Ebert of Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, Sara Bareilles, ong>Jonathan Coulton, Domani, Derek Drymon, Mark Harrison, Stephen Hillenburg, Rob Hyman, Lady Antebellum, Cyndi Lauper, John Legend, Lil' C, Panic! at the Disco, Plain White T's, Blaise Smith, Steven Tyler & Joe Perry of Aerosmith, The Flaming Lips, They Might Be Giants, and T.I., plus songs by David Bowie, Brian Eno, Tom Kenny and Andy Paley and additional music by Tom Kitt and additional lyrics by Jonathan Coulton

Tina Landau and Kyle Jarrow's SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS: THE MUSICAL (In Person at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 14, 19-21, and 26-28), directed by Thomas Mauney and choreographed by Jess Barbour, with musical direction by Mary Kathryn Walston and tap choreography by Freddie Lee Heath (North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre in Raleigh). 2022 SEASON: THE PRESENTER/VENUE:,,,, and DIRECTIONS: ACCESSIBILITY: COVID REQUIREMENTS: THE SHOW: and TICKETS: $22 ($20 students and teachers, seniors, and active-duty military personnel), plus taxes and fees. Click here to buy tickets. INFORMATION: 919-866-0228 or PLEASE DONATE TO: North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights' Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read his reviews for Triangle Review.


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