On April 9th, I was able to go see the UNCG School of Theatre perform “The SpongeBob Musical” and it was truly amazing. I wanted to cry because this was the first show I had seen live without masks since COVID started back in 2020. Also, it was so lighthearted, free, and funny that one could sit and just simply enjoy the spectacle that the cast and crew put on. I had high expectations for this show, as I had known of its Tony Award lineup as well as its success on Broadway.
The costumes for this show were probably my favorite part. SpongeBob had suspenders with his classic brown pants, white button-up, and red tie. Patrick had on a Hawaiian shirt and shorts that were, of course, pink and green. His hair was masterfully created, and I’m not sure whether or not he wore a wig, but the hair went up to a subtle tip which was a reference to Patrick Star’s pointed head from the show (“Who you callin’ pinhead?”). Squidward’s four legs were hilarious and all I could do was watch how wonderful they looked on stage, as Claire Sarmon, the actor who played Squidward, lugged her feet around the stage. Typical Squidward. Squidward’s character also had a wonderful twist, as the audience realizes how he is not a loser, just simply misunderstood by society.
“SpongeBob SquarePants” came out in 1999 and is still continuing to air on Nickelodeon at the time this article was released. The character is adored by millions of people all over the world, specifically those who grew up in the 1990s and 2000s, myself included. But what makes this show such a cultural phenomenon? Let us digress. The characters in the show are anthropomorphic sea creatures living life as if they were humans in a city. The show, however, is not just complete ridiculousness, as the comedy of the show is not birthed out of nowhere, instead, it is part of a beautiful long line of comedic tradition. SpongeBob is Mr. Bean, Charlie Chaplin, The Marx Brothers, Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton, and every slapstick comedian that has walked the Earth. Typically a slapstick character is one who is loveable yet finds themselves in trouble all the time and most importantly, there is a lot of physical comedy. By this I mean, running into a wall, leaning from a clock off the top of a building, sitting in a house that is about to fall off of a mountain cliff, or like the Three Stooges poking each others’ eyes out. SpongeBob is animated, so there is an even bigger opportunity to put a spotlight on these elements.
Slapstick comedy is not just for children. Charlie Chaplin, an actor in the early 20th century, starred in movies that are considered some of the best ever made. In fact, in Ancient Greece, there were plays that featured slapstick comedy as one of the main elements. In the play “Pseudolus” by the Roman playwright Plautus, he took these ideas and evolved them as a Roman. His character Pseudolus would get himself into many tight situations, and there would be physical comedy as well as elements of deception, metatheatre, and complex storylines. Many times in SpongeBob there are moments of metatheatre, where characters in the story are made aware that they are participants in a story. The best example is the episode that is entirely a Krusty Krab training video, which has a lot of hoopla.
The show is also a children’s television show. Although a lot of people could make an argument against this, it is functionally a show for children. Thus, this type of comedy is introduced to children at a young age. In “SpongeBob,” the characters find themselves in certain plots where they must find their way out, but yet the main character is loveable, there is physical comedy, and there are moments of sentimentality. To see a loveable character allows for children to continue coming back and enjoying, if not imitating, the main character. Watching physical comedy will cause laughter, but also watching the ways in which the characters get themselves out of situations will allow the children to think about the comedy, thus making the comedy more personal. In this way, children are able to begin developing their own sense of humor. Lastly, in the moments of sentimentality, children are able to see that although life can be fun and games, one is able to also find the moments of sadness, anger, or fear. By watching all these emotions balanced with an atmosphere of humor, children are able to start to understand what it is to grow up.
The UNCG School of Theatre put on a tremendous performance and I say great job to all of them. I thought they performed the characters not too ridiculously, but ridiculous enough to where one could believe you were watching the original voice actors. I want to say a special shout out to my dear friends who were in the show, Ian Davidson, Lissa Pope, and Tavis Cunningham, may the spirit of Medea forever be with you. There is still time to go see it on April 21, 22, and 23 at 7:30 p.m. It’s going to be the best day ever!