Arts & Leisure

Undersea fun with “SpongeBob”

HAYDEN MANGUM stars in “The Spongebob Musical” on stage at the Gem Theatre in Garden Grove (Dave Safley

By Thom deMartino/Orange County Tribune

Who would have thought so many rock icons loved SpongeBob SquarePants?

Garden Grove’s own lauded Gem Theater and the One More Production Company are at it again with their newest summer spectacle “The SpongeBob Musical” : and even if you’ve never seen the hit Nickelodeon show, it’s rapturous fun for all ages.*(*Children not necessarily required for entry.)

There’s trouble brewing for the undersea inhabitants of Bikini Bottom, where the ever affable and absorbent SpongeBob (Hayden Mangum) dreams of moving up in the world — or at least to manager of the Krusty Krab restaurant, where he works for the unscrupulous Mr. Krabs (Tim Klega).  He’s got the enthusiastic support from his lovable lunkhead of a best friend Patrick (a brilliantly lower-key Peter Crisafulli) … and less than, from his blue-haired sourpuss of a neighbor, the cranky Squidward Q Tentacles (the charming Matthew Rangel) – when suddenly everything is upended by earthquakes rocking their little underwater town.

With the discovery of a local undersea volcano ready to blow, the townsfolk react with… well, whatever comes naturally to them. Mr. Krabs has his greedy eyes on windfall profits in the crisis, while his daughter Pearl (Savannah Clayton) swoons over her favorite pop boy band; the Mayor (Lisa Katherine Taylor) speaks in red tape circles, promising nothing but bureaucracy; and the media, led by newscaster Perch Perkins (Max Seigel) are raising the inhabitants anxieties to a fever pitch. Meanwhile, SpongeBob’s brave and plucky squirrel friend Sandy Cheeks (Julia Iacopetti) consults with her friends as she desperately seeks a scientific solution — and fast.

But it’s Mr. Krabs’ devious and diminutive competitor Sheldon J. Plankton (James Scognamillo), who may get the last laugh: with the help of his companion Karen the Computer (a delightfully snarky Iva Erwin), the minute menace intends to whip the populace into an anti-science frenzy to thwart Sandy and place them under his own nefarious hypnotic spell.

What’s a simple sponge supposed to do?

This Southern California premiere of “The SpongeBob Musical” is “the biggest show One More Productions has ever done” says director and OMP co-founder Damien Lorton. The costume and set design took an environmentally-friendly tact, using recycled materials – many salvaged from the oceans – for at least half of their sets and costume elements. The result is a intoxicating, imaginative, immersive environment as the audience finds themselves stepping through the doors and into a fanciful undersea world, complete with draping kelp, fishermen’s nets and faint sound of bubbles.

The warm, French-accented narration of the story by OMP veteran Robert Edward brings those viewers unfamiliar with the denizens of Bikini Bottom up-to-speed, as the adept musicians behind the scenes (Stephen Hulsey, Nick Bravo, Richard Lueras, Jacob Gonzalez, Spencer Evens, Vincent Hizon and Jeff Segal) perform so seamlessly that some listeners have mistaken them for a recording!

The recent class of newer additions to the OMP family continue to shine in this production, often with their own solo numbers throughout the piece: and with songs penned by some of the biggest talents in music – including David Bowie, Steven Tyler and Jeff Perry, Cyndi Lauper, Panic! At The Disco, John Legend and more – it has more of a “jukebox’ musical feel to it, giving the cast some stellar material to work with.

As with previous shows, Mangum is magnetic, even in this playful, goofy persona, and his chemistry with Crisafulli’s Patrick is heartwarming. Rangel’s Squidward is charmingly cranky, but with a secretly sensitive side; Iacopetti’s Sandy is beautifully earnest and determined, even in the face of a town riled up enough to vilify science and embrace hysteria. (For what some might mischaracterize as simply a musical for kids, the underlying themes are surprisingly timely.) 

Of particular note is the dysfunctional, yet strangely sweet dynamic between Scognamillo’s Napoleon complex-burdened Sheldon and Erwin’s cool and aloof Karen, as she gradually warms up to his diabolical plans, as well as his fevered, rapid-fire performance in “When the Going Gets Tough.”

More than just for kids, “The SpongeBob Musical” is charming, funny, witty and delightfully subversive, yet wholesome: and though you don’t need be a SpongeBob fan to enjoy it, you may certainly be one afterwards.

“The SpongeBob Musical”, Hayden Mangum, Peter Crisafulli and Matthew Rangel star in this fun visual feast for all ages. Playing through July 31 at The Gem Theater, 12852 Main Street, Garden Grove, CA, 92840. Call 714-741-9550 x221 or e-mail for ticketing information.

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