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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: ‘The SpongeBob Musical’ out of this world in De Pere

Critic At Large

St. Norbert College Music Theatre-Next Stage

Basic setup for “The SpongeBob Musical” by St. Norbert College Music Theatre-Next Stage. (Warren Gerds)

DE PERE, Wis. (WFRV) – When is a comical TV show at its best? When a musical is made about it, and a live, in-person audience gets excited about its characters, its humor, its songs and its imagination – and then gets cranked about all sorts of add-ons in an all-out excellent production.

A doubly impressive production of “The SpongeBob Musical” is running this weekend in Walter Theatre of St. Norbert College.

One. The college’s summer Music Theatre-Next Stage program throws full weight into the production. Elaborate setwork, costuming, visual effects, technical demands and performance levels consume what happens on stage. Discipline reigns. Collaboration ripples. Performers radiate confidence.

Two. What is achieved on stage didn’t fall from the sky. Twenty-one high schools from the region are represented, so something skillful is happening at them to help produce the kind of results seen in this show. 

In ways, Next Stage’s production of “The SpongeBob Musical” has advantages over the pros. Many of the players grew up with the TV show – lived it and breathed it in a sense. The show speaks young, something they know.

The thing still is silly. A sponge lives under the sea. In a pineapple. His pet snail meows. In this musical, a volcano threatens to bring doom to the sponge and all his underwater friends, and an evil plankton doesn’t help matters much. I hope I didn’t give away too much of this nail-biter.

Remarkably, this show has bits that echo what’s been happening in the real world – stuff about government and science and protesting.

Mostly what the production has is energy – super-charged, focused energy.

When Aidan Averbeck comes out as SpongeBob SquarePants with a quirky voice and determined gait and sunny disposition, a built character is on the move.

Jake Barbeau deadpans his way through the ways of Patrick Star, the deadhead adored by the masses.

Alina Kiedinger pours gusto into her role of Sandy Cheeks, who has two strikes against her in the water world – a squirrel who is smart (being a scientist). All eyes are on Aidan Averbeck and Alina Kiedinger as they climb rolling stairways (props to the crews) up an imaginary mountain, singing and acting and hanging this way and that all the way.

On opening night Thursday, the first huge burst of audience electricity (rising even through mandatory masking) came in a duet with Isaac Bowman as the greedy shop owner Eugene Krabs and Amelia Gibbons as his teenyboppin’ daughter Pearl sing separate thoughts. Bluesy soaring lifted from Amelia Gibbons – YEA!!!

Nick Kramer is snarly as Sheldon Plankton, the amoeba with big, evil plans to take over the town of Bikini Bottom the help of sinister colleague Karen the Computer, portrayed by Elizabeth Cantwell.

Ryan Bouchard is a winner as the self-proclaimed loser Squidward Q. Tentacles, who is desperately trying to get attention in showbiz.

The fun starts immediately as Charlie Rickards comes out as Patchy the Pirate, an interloper on the stage. As he points his camera, “security guards” tell him there is no filming allowed. “But I’m making a pirate copy,” Patchy says, starting the role of fanciful jokes.

And then there are teams of tap dancers and choruses of singers large and small and clever props (a cheesehead, too) and bright cartoon-color costumes and head/hair pieces and rolling skateboarders and an aura of eagerness.

Many performers play multiple characters. Their changeovers run like clockwork.

The music is live and seamless.

The set has an underwater look with moving parts and something sea-sy to see in every quarter.

Thursday night, some performers arriving to a scene were not heard on their first steps in, but that was small potatoes given the scale of this project.

Much is dynamic. This show is an accomplishment in a niche of its own in the legacy of Music Theatre.

There’s a completeness. Like this: I stayed in my seat after the show ended to wait for the hall to clear, the buzz of audience members fading as they left, and from the stage came the sound of waves rolling ashore. It seemed as if Bikini Bottom existed. What delicious make-believe.

***

Creative: Based on the series by Stephen Hillenburg; book – Kyle Jarrow; original songs – Yolanda Adams, Steven Tyler, Joe Perry, Sara Bareilles, Jonathan Coulton, Alex Ebert, Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, The Flaming Lips, Lady Antebellum, Cyndi Lauper, John Legend, Panic! At the Disco, Plain White T’s, They Might Be Giants; T.I. songs – David Bowie, Tom Kenny & Andy Paley; additional lyrics – Jonathan Coulton; additional music – Tom Kitt; musical production concept – Tina Landau; Next Stage producer – Music Theatre Management Team: Paul Mashl, Kent Paulsen, Stephen Rupsch; co-director/choral director – Theresa Schmidt; co-director/choreographer – Andrea Hearden; pit director – Michael Rosewall; scenic, projection and lighting director – Greg Kaye; technical director – Corey Allan Pinchart; assistant technical director – Brittney (Roffers) Fritz; props designer – Hayden Barlass; costume designer – Erica Peters; hair and make-up designer – Stacey Kolze; sound designer and engineer – Paul Mashl; stage manager – Katie DeRuyter; assistant stage manager – Maria Miller; scenic paint charge – Susan Elliott; assistant choreographer – Molly Lucarelli; primary rehearsal pianist – Emily Sculliuffo; foley artist – Jonah Christopherson; foley assistant – Kit Honkanen

Cast (in order of appearance)

+ Patchy the Pirate – Charlie Rickards

+ Security Guards – Amelia Gibbons, Jacob Massart

+ Sea Creature – Aria Kiedinger

+ Citizen/Mrs. Puff – Emma Doran

+ SpongeBob SquarePants – Aidan Averbeck

+ Patrick Star – Jake Barbeau

+ Squidward Q. Tentacles – Ryan Bouchard

+ Girl Fish Trio – Emma Doran, Tryana Dokolas, Aria Kiedinger

+ Hip Hop Dancers – Valerie Jeanquart, Nick Tamayo

+ Townfish – Ione Berken, Elizabeth Cantwell, Aren Damayo, Tryana Dokolas, Emma Doran, Emily Hoeppner, Valerie Jeanquart, Aria Kiedinger, Nick Kramer, Jacob Massart, Elijah Nash, Henry Pahlow, Charlie Richards, Kristen Roggenbauer, Drew Skaletski, Nick Tamayo, Sophie Utrie

+ Sandy Cheeks – Alina Kiedinger

+ Eugene Krabs – Isaac Bowman

+ Sheldon Plankton – Nick Kramer

+ Karen the Computer – Elizabeth Cantwell

+ The Mayor of Bikini Bottom – Kristen Roggenbauer

+ Larry the Lobster – Drew Skaletski

+ Old Man Jenkins – Aren Damayo

+ Cowboy Fish – Ione Berken, Emily Hoeppner, Sophie Utrie

+ Pearl Krabs – Amelia Gibbons

+ Perch Perkins – Henry Pahlow

+ BFF Backup Dancers – Emily Hoeppner, Valerie Jeanquart, Nick Tamayo

+ Sponge Chorus – Ione Berken, Aren Damayo, Tryana Dokolas, Aria Kiedinger, Jacob Massart, Charlie Rickards, Nick Tamayo, Sophie Utrie

+ Sardines – Ione Berken, Elizabeth Cantwell, Aren Damayo, Tryana Dokolas, Emma Doran, Amelia Gibbons, Emily Hoeppner, Valerie Jeanquart, Aria Kiedinger, Nick Kramer, Jacob Massart, Elijah Nash, Henry Pahlow, Charlie Rickards, Kristen Roggenbauer, Drew Skaletski, Nick Tamayo, Sophie Utrie

+ Johnny the Bartender – Nick Kramer

+ Pirates – Ione Berken, Elizabeth Cantwell, Aren Damayo, Tryana Dokolas, Emma Doran, Emily Hoeppner, Valerie Jeanquart, Nick Kramer, Aria Kiedinger, Elijah Nash, Kristen Roggenbauer, Drew Skaletski, Nick Tamayo, Sophie Utrie

+ Angry Mob – Tryana Dokolas, Valerie Jeanquart, Elijah Nash, Nick Tamayo

+ Electric Skates – Emily Hoeppner, Aria Kiedinger, Jacob Massart

+ Sea Anemones – Elizabeth Cantwell, Aren Damayo, Emma Doran, Amelia Gibbons, Emily Hoeppner, Aria Kiedinger, Nick Kramer, Jacob Massart, Elijah Nash, Charlie Rickards, Nick Tamayo

+ Sardine Devotees – Ione Berken, Emma Doran, Amelia Gibbons, Emily Hoeppner, Sophie Utrie

+ Jellyfish – Aren Damayo, Charlie Rickards, Drew Skaletski, Nick Tamayo

+ French Narrator – Elijah Nash

+ Gary the Snail – Jacob Massart

Pit orchestra: Conductor – Michael Rosewall; piano 1 – Emily Sculliuffo; flute – Amanda Barnes; clarinet and alto sax – Maisie Teska; tenor sax – Will Bakken; trumpet – Claire Hendee; trombone – Aydin Abts; drum kit – Luke Mobley; piano 2 – Zachary Holder; guitar 1/ukulele/banjo – Maliq Mendez-McGillivray; guitar 2 – Kaden VanPrice; electric bass – Madeline Tricarico

Running time: 2½ hours

Remaining performances: 7:30 p.m. Aug. 13, 2 p.m. Aug. 14-15

Info: snc.edu/tickets/ – in-person or livestream

***

Musical numbers

Act I

Prologue

“Bikini Bottom Day” – The Town

“Bikini Bottom Day” (Reprise) – SpongeBob

“No Control” – Perch Perkins, The Town

“BFF” – SpongeBob, Patrick

“When the Going Gets Tough” – Plankton, The Town

“(Just a) Simple Sponge” – SpongeBob, Mr. Krabs, Sponges

“Daddy Knows Best” – Mr. Krabs, Pearl

“Hero is My Middle Name” – SpongeBob, Sandy, Patrick

“Super Sea-Star Savior” – Patrick, Sardines

“Tomorrow Is” – The Town

Act II

“Poor Pirates” – Patchy, Pirates

“Bikini Bottom Day” (Reprise 2) – SpongeBob

“Bikini Bottom Boogie” – The Electric Skates, Pearl, Fans

“Chop to the Top” – Sandy SpongeBob

“(I Guess) I Miss You” – SpongeBob, Patrick

“I’m Not a Loser” – Squidward, Sea Anemones

“Simple Sponge” (Reprise) – SpongeBob

“Best Day Ever” – SpongeBob, The Town

Finale: “Bikini Bottom Day” (Reprise 3) – The Town

“SpongeBob Theme Song” – All

***

THE VENUE: The 724-seat Byron L. Walter Theatre features a proscenium stage (flat front). Its walls are textured concrete blocks laid in a wave pattern. The ceiling includes white acoustical clouds. Seat material and carpeting are the traditional theater red. The theater is located in Abbot Pennings Hall of Fine Arts at St. Norbert College in De Pere. It is the larger of two theaters in the building, the core of which was built in 1955. In 1989, the Walter Theatre was renovated to improve the lobby and interior aesthetic, adding seating and improving the acoustics.

THE PERSON: Byron L. Walter (1877-1954) was a businessman. He operated Green Bay Hardware, Inc. until his retirement in 1953. Walter was co-founder of Paper Converting Machine Co. and for a time served as president. After his death, the Byron L. Walter Family Trust was established, and it made possible the theater. The trust continues to make widespread contributions to community projects and institutions.

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