Playhouse Audience Soaks Up ‘The SpongeBob Musical’

By J.E. Ballantyne Jr.

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The seafaring citizens of the unlikely location named Bikini Bottom have a crisis looming in their midst – a nearby volcano is about to erupt that will obliterate both them and their little sea village. The lively opening number, “Bikini Bottom Day” introduces the audience to this assorted population of sea creatures.

Among them is SpongeBob Squarepants. The SpongeBob character has become very popular via the cartoon of the same name. With disaster staring them in the face, SpongeBob, and his loyal friends, must come to the rescue to save everyone from certain disaster.

“The SpongeBob Musical” is the current offering from The Millennial Theatre Company and opened at the Youngstown Playhouse this Friday evening to an appreciative audience.

The show itself is like watching a Saturday morning cartoon show. In and of itself it is nothing fantastic with a musical score full of unmemorable music. The plot is thread bare, at best, and much of the script is certainly aimed at the young audience types. But it is what the Millennial does with the show that makes it pop.

Ty Hanes plays a bubbly and energetic SpongeBob. He captivates the audience from his first appearance with his high pitched vocal characterization and a smooth and friendly rapport with the audience. He glides easily from dialogue to song with a strong vocal quality without losing any of the Bob character along the way.

He offers perhaps the best musical moment of the entire evening with “(Just a) Simple Sponge,” as he convinces himself that he is more than what he seems to be. He is backed by the ensemble with some very clever sponge choreography sort of reminiscent of the opening number in “Pippin.”

Helping Bob conquer the volcano are friends Patrick Star and Sandy Cheeks played by Tyler Stouffer and Grayson McCrory respectively. Both Stouffer and McCrory provide strong support for Hanes. Stouffer particularly stands out in “Super Sea Star.” McCrory has a strong vocal presence but the character has little depth with only varying degrees of growth throughout.

Other standouts are Jacob Nash as Squidward Q. Tentacles and Ryan Stewart as Eugene Krabs. Nash puts a nice dash into the character of Squidward and, although probably unintended, has a style and delivery reminiscent of Charles Nelson Reilly. He also has the most interesting costume of the entire cast with pants with four legs. Stewart is the grumbling boss of the local eating establishment with effectively overdone crab claws which add to his dominant character.

George Maillis and Brianna Rae Quinn provide the appropriately nasty and calculating villains of Sheldon J. Plankton and Karen the Computer. The rest of the featured cast is also very strong, although the character of Patchy the Pirate just struck me as an after thought. Perhaps it was originally written in just to give an actor a job. The character was done well by Ben Doss but seemed like a spare oar in a row boat.

Director Joe Asente has again mounted a first-class professional production. Music direction by Anthony Ruggiero is first rate with leads and ensemble adding some excitement and heart into an otherwise uneventful score. Choreography by Hannah Stephens and Aubrie Morrison is lively and features a great tap number in Act II. Ty Hanes and Daniel Chiaberta have provided clever and colorful costumes that add to the visual enjoyment.

And although the show does touch on some topical moments and presents some worthwhile points, it is the Millennial’s presentation that really makes this show. In lesser hands it could have been a long evening.

The tech side of the show gets as much credit as the cast. As the audience enters they are greeted with a colorful false proscenium and brightly lit Sponge-Bob show curtain. The set, designed by Broadway designer Nate Bertone, is well though out, colorful, and intriguing as it flows in and out. Lighting by Asente is, as usual, top quality and adds tons of color and life to the production. Props, which are uncredited also deserve kudos for unusual and fun items including Sponge.Bob’s pet snail.

Yes, “The SpongeBob Musical” is aimed more at the younger set but there is plenty in it for everyone of any age. Catch it if you can. It is fun!

‘The SpongeBob Musical’ will continue July 29, Aug. 4, 5 at 7:30 p.m. July 30, Aug. 6 at 2:30 p.m.

Pictured at top: Ty Hanes, Grayson McCrory and Tyler Stouffer star in Millennial Theatre Company’s production of “The Spongebob Musical.”

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