Holiday cheer has arrived — in the form of “nautical nonsense.”
Who else but SpongeBob SquarePants, the resolutely upbeat yellow sponge who lives in a pineapple under the sea, could convince a mob of sea creatures panicking over their imminent annihilation to hold hands and sing that it’s the “Best Day Ever”?
Despite some weak spots, the new Broadway musical adaptation of the Nickelodeon cartoon “SpongeBob SquarePants” works well enough as a lively, silly, trippy show appealing to kids, Millennials and anyone who has watched the TV show since it premiered in 1999.
The elaborate production (directed by Tina Landau, best known for Off-Broadway and regional work) benefits from an immersive, blue-streaked visual design that spills into the audience. Think “Pee-wee’s Playhouse” meets “The Little Mermaid.” There’s even a superfan dressed as a pirate who rushes the stage and an artist creating live sound effects.
In addition to SpongeBob (Ethan Slater, with a pop-style voice and hyperactive air), the other popular characters featured include karate-chopping squirrel Sandy (Lilli Cooper), downbeat octopus Squidward (Gavin Lee, who tap dances while sporting an extra pair of legs), dimwitted starfish Patrick (Danny Skinner), fast-food proprietor Mr. Krabs (Brian Ray Norris) and scheming single-celled Plankton (Wesley Taylor).
The costumes evoke the look of the TV characters without turning the actors into life-size puppets.
The plot involves a volcanic eruption that threatens to destroy the town unless SpongeBob and pals save the day, but it has too many loose strands — Plankton at work on his latest stunt, Patrick gaining a cult, Squidward organizing a concert — causing it to shift back and forth endlessly. And an awkward attempt is made to address racial discrimination.
In an unusual move, the score comprises primarily original individual contributions from different artists including Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith, The Flaming Lips, Lady Antebellum, Cyndi Lauper, Sara Bareilles and John Legend.
Their pop-rock songs tend to be serviceable at best, and are easily outshined by David Bowie’s “No Control” and two songs from the TV show — the catchy, quirky anthem “Best Day Ever” and the theme music (saved for a beach ball-infused curtain call).
All in all, “SpongeBob” manages to win over the crowd thanks to an energetic cast, psychedelic flair and party atmosphere.