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The SpongeBob Musical

  • Theatre, Musicals
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
 The SpongeBob Musical, Southbank Centre, 2023
Photo: Mark Senior

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

The UK premiere of this musical spin-off of the cult cartoon is fun but saccharine and could have done with a bigger budget

Kid's cartoon 'SpongeBob Squarepants' is such a uniquely North American creation. What other nation would take a cheery ocean sponge and force him to labour as a burger-flipping fast food worker whose only dream is to become ‘management material’? Still, what some might read as a bleak satire on the mind prison of capitalism, the makers of this musical adaptation deem a peppy story for kids, and they largely succeed in creating a fun, panto-esque show for summer holiday crowds.
‘The SpongeBob Musical’ had a stint on Broadway in 2017, reeling in audiences with its extravagantly camp design choices and a score of songs written by improbably big names including Cyndi Lauper, The Flaming Lips and Panic! At the Disco. This new touring UK production still has a seriously enjoyable (if inevitably disjointed) soundtrack, but director Tara Overfield Wilkinson’s production has a bit of a low-budget, panto-esque feel, with Steve Howell’s design gesturing vaguely to sea-rescuing sustainability by using crushed plastic bottles and rubber gloves.
‘You're just a simple sponge, but somehow you don't seem to absorb very much,’ SpongeBob's boss Eugene Krabs tells him, to audience ‘awwws’. But then, an underwater volcano threatens to turn this town's shelly inhabitants into mixed seafood tempura, and SpongeBob must save the day.
Kyle Jarrow’s relentlessly saccharine book is light on both suspense and laughs, and this production’s declamatory straight-to-audience acting style and cringey moments of innuendo don’t help on either count. Still, choreographer Fabian Aloise delivers some spirited dance routines (the number with glo-in-the-dark sponges is a highlight) and the score is a total joy.
As SpongeBob, squeaky-voiced Lewis Cornay is just the right side of annoying, and his voice reveals astonishing depths in standout number ‘(Just a) Simple Sponge’ by Panic! At The Disco. His morose aspiring actor pal Squidward is played by a very funny Gareth Gates, who delivers another highlight in flamboyant tap number ‘I'm Not a Loser’ by They Might Be Giants. And drag queen Divina de Campo is fun as villainous Sheldon – if only she'd had some more acidic lines to deliver. 
The kids who once watched Spongebob on telly are now old enough to bring their own offspring to this show. 'Spongebob the Musical' will satisfy their nostalgia, and keep their kids broadly entertained - without offering enough complexity to soak up West End audiences with a whole sea of smarter, slicker shows to choose from.
Alice Saville
Written by
Alice Saville


£22.50-£99. Runs 2hr 15min
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