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"Victory goes to the player who makes the next-to-last mistake - Chessmaster Savielly Grigorievitch Tartakower (1887-1956)"

Thursday, August 10, 2023

The SpongeBob Musical @ Queen Elizabeth Hall…

I know what you’re thinking. I thought the same. What the actual jellyfish? But, trust me, it works. 
Yes, last night Steve and I went to see The SpongeBob Musical at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on London's glitzy South Bank.
In case, like Patrick Starfish, you’ve been living under a rock, SpongeBob SquarePants is an animated television series about an anthropomorphic sponge who lives in a pineapple under the sea. As a child, it’s like watching a funky fairy tale; as an adult, it’s like an acid trip. Or more accurately, giving a bunch of very talented singers and dancers the keys to the dressing up box and a bucket of acid.
Whilst there have been many successful musicals based on animated films, I’m struggling to think of any others based on animated television series. Turning SpongeBob into a stage musical was a risk – but it absolutely paid off.  
The stage musical follows SpongeBob (played by Reece Kerridge at our performance) as he attempts to thwart the eruption of an underground volcano.  The musical is child-like, farcical and outright silly, but it is also surprisingly sociopolitical. 
The musical satirises recent events, such as the coronavirus pandemic, with signs outright ripping off “stay home / protect the NHS / save lives”.  
The musical also explores people’s indifference to (or outright denial of) crises, e.g. climate change. It tackles a range of issues, including prejudice and xenophobia (Sandy, a scientist squirrel who now lives under the sea, is blamed for the impending natural disaster).  
Indeed, at the end of the musical, SpongeBob criticises the citizens of Bikini Bottom for their irrational reactions to impending doom. People fall into one of several categories; they look for someone to blame, follow, exploit, or control. The “stronger together” message is a bit cheesy but it’s true – and, given the target audience (children, though some of us excited adults forgot that!), it is an important message.  
The creatives must be applauded for tackling some really serious issues in a light-hearted but not reductive way.
The musical is radical with its score too; each song is written by a different person, most of them uber successful artists, from Cyndi Lauper to the recently disbanded Panic! At The Disco. 
The songs all have a unique flavour but they also compliment each other; it’s as if they have all been written by the same person. All of the key players get at least one big number, with Squidward’s ‘I’m Not a Loser’ being the best number of the show; it’s a jazzy Broadway bonanza!  
The musical is perfectly cast. The actors have magically brought the iconic characters to life but they also succeed in putting their own spins on the characters.  
Drag Race UK legend Divina de Campo is utterly fabulous as the villainous Plankton, whilst TikTok star Hannah Lowther is perfectly cast as Karen Plankton – though the role is a little underwritten; she deserves more stage time.  
The set is spectacular, the costumes are terrific, and the production makes great use of technology. Speaking of technology – there were a few tech difficulties with the audio that halted the show for 20 minutes near the start. 
That said, the producers have done a wonderful job of creating something that both adults and children will enjoy; there were lots of families there but also groups of adult friends – and everybody was up on their feet by the end, dancing to the television series’ iconic theme tune.

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