Theater & dance

Stage Review

‘The SpongeBob Musical’ is a sea of joy

18spongebob - The Company of The SpongeBob Musical (Jeremy Daniel)
Jeremy Daniel
Lorenzo Pugliese, starring as SpongeBob SquarePants, appears with the rest of the company in “The SpongeBob Musical.”

Like his ever-optimistic undersea buddy, SpongeBob SquarePants, the jovial starfish Patrick Star is given to unpredictable effusions of sentiment or opinion. In the middle of “The SpongeBob Musical’’ at the Boch Center Wang Theatre, Patrick blurts out what sounds almost like a statement of aesthetic principle: “There’s nothing better than mindless entertainment!’’

A crafty bit of self-justification by the creators of “The SpongeBob Musical’’? Maybe. The show Patrick is in could be seen as a hefty chunk of evidence for his thesis, though I would argue that “The SpongeBob Musical’’ is not truly mindless. But entertaining? Yes indeed.

You may not necessarily find it so. For adults, I suspect this relentlessly goofy and exuberant acid trip of a musical will be a decidedly love-it-or-hate-it proposition. Their offspring are likely to have less difficulty losing themselves inside the intricately structured joy machine that is “The SpongeBob Musical.’’ That’s only logical, given that atmospherically this musical strives for the spirit and perspective of a child, whether of the actual or inner variety.


That spirit is embodied by the titular sea sponge, whose disposition is so relentlessly sunny he makes Pollyanna look like Samuel Beckett. Played at the Wang by the indefatigably acrobatic and likable Lorenzo Pugliese in checked pants and striped suspenders, SpongeBob understandably gets on the nerves of his cranky neighbor, Squidward Q. Tentacles (Cody Cooley), an anthropomorphic octopus with showbiz ambitions.

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SpongeBob, as fans of the Nickelodeon animated series created by the late Stephen Hillenburg know, works as a fry cook at the Krusty Krab, run by the money-hungry Eugene Krabs (Zach Kononov). SpongeBob is hoping to move into upper management, but our hero’s hopes, dreams, and carefree existence — and those of all his friends and neighbors — are menaced by the imminent eruption of a volcano that will obliterate the underwater city of Bikini Bottom.

That is, unless SpongeBob, Patrick (Beau Bradshaw), and their friend Sandy Cheeks (Daria Pilar Redus, excellent), a science-whiz squirrel from Texas, can devise a way to stop it. Secretly scheming against them are Sheldon Plankton (Tristan McIntyre) and his wife, Karen the Computer (Caitlin Ort), who look and act like a couple of Bond villains.

No reason not to have a good time just because Armageddon looms, and that’s what “The SpongeBob Musical’’ proceeds to do. Director Tina Landau and her collaborators, including scenic and costume design genius David Zinn and ace choreographer Christopher Gattelli, unspool a host of entertaining production numbers within a world that is an iridescent riot of pinks, purples, greens, blues, yellows, and polka dots.

This is a show that makes room for dancing plankton, a musclebound lobster, a double-talking politician, walking hamburgers, a teenage whale determined to be a rock star, and a renegade pirate determined to steal some stage time, while eschewing the labored snark of “Shrek’’ and other franchises that try to have it both ways by appealing to kids while elbowing parents in the ribs with edgier bits.


Instead, “SpongeBob’’ bookwriter Kyle Jarrow sustains a level of humor that is both wry and sly, while also periodically dipping into more serious waters with a pointed subplot about the panic-stricken citizenry scapegoating Sandy, the lone land mammal, as matters deteriorate in Bikini Bottom. (“Blame the squirrel!’’ they cry.) Although Jarrow’s script ultimately resolves that subplot in a too-pat manner, it’s still a useful lesson for young audiences about the perils of discriminating against “outsiders’’ during times of trouble.

The score is a farrago of musical styles that mesh surprisingly well, given that the songs were composed by a lengthy who’s who that includes the late David Bowie, Cyndi Lauper, Sara Bareilles, John Legend, Brian Eno, Steven Tyler, and Joe Perry, among others. Only Lady Antebellum’s “Chop to the Top’’ falls flat. Otherwise, from Jonathan Coulton’s ebullient “Bikini Bottom Day’’ to Bowie/Eno’s foreboding “No Control’’ to the poignant “(Just A) Simple Sponge’’ by Panic! At the Disco, the songs punctuate the story nicely. My favorite was a tune originally written for the TV series, “Best Day Ever,’’ by Andy Paley and Tom Kenny, which, like the show itself, can’t help but lift your spirits. By the end, even the perpetually peeved Squidward seems more cheerful.


Based on the series by Stephen Hillenburg. Book by Kyle Jarrow. Musical production conceived and directed by Tina Landau. At Boch Center Wang Theatre through Oct. 27. Tickets $25-$125, 800-982-2787,

Don Aucoin can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @GlobeAucoin.