Adapting a zany, well-loved 11-minute-per-episode children’s cartoon like Spongebob into a full 145-minute musical production is certainly an ambitious task. The cast and creatives have done admirably well bringing the characters of Bikini Bottom to life, but they just miss the mark in a production which is so stuffed full of musical numbers it leaves little room for the adventurous plot.

Credit: Mark Senior

The show opens with a panto-style skit featuring Patchy the Pirate and some security guards, with a fun, catchy song about life in Bikini Bottom, which briefly introduces the audience to the various characters from the cartoon. If you aren’t familiar with the source material, it’s something of a whistle-stop tour to get you mostly up to speed. This also gives the audience its first look at Sarah Mercade’s costumes, which are bright and colourful and capture the essence of each character, but perhaps aren’t all as out-there as they could be; Plankton and Patrick don’t look as if they belong in the same universe with such a disparity in costuming. The costumes, along with much of the set and props, feature recyclables such as plastic cups and bottles as a message about pollution in the seas, but it cheapens the overall look of the show when compared to the Broadway production.

Something quite unique about this show is its score; comprised of eighteen musical numbers (plus a reprise or two) each written by a different recording artist including the likes of David Bowie, Panic! at the Disco, Cyndi Lauper, Sara Bareilles, and John Legend. It presents a widely varied soundscape which is fun but inconsistent, and most of the numbers do little to progress the plot. Instead, there is a lot of singing about the impending doom and how the characters are feeling without anyone actually doing anything at all until the second act.

Credit: Mark Senior

What cannot be faulted is the cast on stage. Everyone gets plenty of opportunities to show off their talent vocally and with some impressive choreography from Fabian Aloise. If anything it would have been nice to see more of the two celebrities in the cast; Gareth Gates as Squidward Q Tentacles and Divina De Campo as Sheldon J Plankton, who both shine as brightly as expected when given their moments (Squidward’s big tap number in Act 2 is certainly worth the wait!). The ensemble is small, with most taking on multiple roles with some very tight costume changes, but they give full non-stop energy and powerful vocals throughout whilst looking as though they’re having the time of their life. Lewis Cornay is excellent in the titular role, embracing SpongeBob’s characteristic voice and mannerisms with convincing exuberance and somehow still managing to wow vocally through it; “(Just a) Simple Sponge” is a true highlight.

The beautiful thing about this show is that it doesn’t take itself seriously, and Spongebob fans will be right at home with the style. From hilarious slapstick moments to the running gag of squeaky dog toys being used for characters’ footsteps, there is a lot to laugh at. The jokes are simple and family-friendly, and if you aren’t frustrated by lack of substance you’re sure to have a fun time.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The Spongebob Musical is on a UK tour from now until September, stopping off at cities across the country, and coming to London for the summer! Find tickets and info here.

{🎟 AD – PR invite – Tickets were gifted in exchange for an honest review}

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