THEATRE

Top songwriters on board for The SpongeBob Broadway musical

David Bowie, John Legend, Cyndi Lauper, Lady Antebellum, and Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith have all contributed to musical based on hit children's TV series

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 September, 2015, 6:06am
UPDATED : Monday, 14 September, 2015, 6:06am
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With an original score by an incongruous group of music luminaries including David Bowie, John Legend, Cyndi Lauper, Lady Antebellum, and Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith, the animated series SpongeBob SquarePants is to become a Broadway musical in the 2016-17 season in New York.

But the denizens of Bikini Bottom will sing for the first time in Chicago next summer.

"SpongeBob has transformed television, fashion and the art community," says Russell Hicks,  president of content development and production for the Nickelodeon television channel. "The theatre will be next."

Thus the pre-Broadway world premiere of SpongeBob The Musical will begin performances on June 7, 2016, at Chicago's Oriental Theatre, playing in Chicago for at least a month.

The show then will move to Broadway, probably in autumn. It is co-conceived and directed by the Steppenwolf Theatre ensemble member Tina Landau, with a book penned by Kyle Jarrow and music supervision by the Broadway composer Tom Kitt, whose primary job is to wrangle and coalesce the work of a number of rock stars, each writing one song for the musical.

"All of those amazing composers are fans of SpongeBob," says Hicks.

"Music has always been an important part of the show and everyone saw this as a real creative challenge. We were excited by everyone who wants to write songs for him."

Other composers who've signed on include Jonathan Coulton, Dirty Projectors, The Flaming Lips, Panic! At the Disco, Plain White T's, They Might Be Giants and T.I.

The SpongeBob Musical will have a narrative. Landau says: "One of our challenges has been to take an episodic art form, remain true to its spirit of non-sequiturs and outrageousness and then create a really strong storyline that will not only get people involved but pay off emotionally. So we have a story and a subplot, but it's all spiced with the particular flavourings of the SpongeBob universe."

The series, created in 1999 by the animator and marine biologist Stephen Hillenburg, is phenomenally popular throughout much of the world. It is known for its broad appeal to many demographics and for its narrative ability to operate on several levels at once.

Earlier this year, a movie, The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water was released, albeit with a different creative team. Reviews were generally favourable, although some critics noted the difficulty in expanding the short SpongeBob format to a full-length movie. (SpongeBob, or "sponge baby" in Chinese, is popular in Hong Kong, with merchandise based on the animated series available in toy stores and online.)

The narrative in the musical will be completely different, as will the aesthetic style.

Landau says that she wanted to be clear that this was not an arena-style show featuring performers in costumes closely replicating the TV show, all running around the stage recreating the familiar show.

"We're not talking actors in prosthetics," she says. "We're more interesting in how the human body can transform itself into cartoon-like characters."

The casting for the show has yet to be released, although Landau says there will be one central actor playing the title role, albeit appearing as SpongeBob in many different guises. The show will be geared to both adults and children.

Tribune News Service