SpongeBob is the Hamlet of the Nickelodeon oeuvre, not because the pore rich sea creature is a brooding Danish prince, but because despite being buggy eyed with only two teeth, he’s the signature character that lots of folks know and love. Bob also has a namesake musical that earned 12 Tony Award nominations in 2018. And now, five years later, The SpongeBob Musical is the spring theatrical event for St. Joe’s drama department. (That’s St. Joseph Notre Dame High School for the uninitiated.)
The SpongeBob Musical delivers energy and entertainment
Kaedn Baquiran, the opening-night sponge, bore only minimal resemblance to the animated dude. She wore a yellow shirt and striped shorts, but was charming with a terrific voice and presence. Kaedn was the best of a terrific collection of fish who swam, sang, danced, and cavorted on the stage at the Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Arts in Oakland, all under the amazing direction of Lauren Rosi, the Neptune of this fun fin madness.
Before continuing, I need to disclose that I’m the father of two sons who watched some SpongeBob when they were young, but not to the extent that I remember anything at all about the show. So, unlike a lot of the joyful crowd, I did not bring any knowledge or appreciation of the themes and personae performing before me. The story is familiar nonetheless, for it is the hero’s journey central to the Western canon of literature. SpongeBob, an underappreciated employee at the Krusty Krab, and best pal with Patrick the Starfish (played by the wonderful Mia Halley) is tasked with saving everyone living at Bikini Bottom because a local volcano is about to erupt. Every Othello needs an Iago, and for Spongy it’s the team of Mr. and Mrs. Plankton, played by Dominic Zahradka and KJ Thompson, both engaging and evil. I’ll not reveal how it’s all resolved, but can tease that bubbles play a critical role in stifling the impending climatic disaster. If only it were that simple with global warming.
An all-around team of all-stars
So many other actors are worthy of praise, but I’m going to borrow from Director Rosi who, during her curtain speech, shared that nearly all of the props were kid-made by her students. They were incredible, from the volcano to the goofy microphone, the avalanche device, the jellyfish umbrellas, and the computer screen where Mrs. Plankton lived, all of which matched the adorably dorky costumes worn by the aquatic entourage. Best of all—sorry, humans—was the remote-controlled snail who was lucky to receive a SpongeBob serenade.
The choreography was excellent (Mary Kalita), the musical direction outstanding (Lynden Bair), and the overall effort of parents and volunteers who welcomed us and sold M&M’s during intermission was great. And while I kept waiting for it, thankfully at the end no one was the recipient of fluorescent green slime gooped upon their innocent heads, myself especially. What I did leave with was a feeling unique to high school musical theater—the pre-show palpable buzz as the crowd of family and friends settle in, young crew members race about making sure everything is ready, and then the director welcomes the audience who have a look of pure joy on their faces. They uniquely know how much work the folks behind the curtain have put in, those in the tech booth, the parents who drove the kids to and from rehearsal, this army—or in this case navy—of people working so hard at making living art. And then it happens, the curtain opens, the first note is struck, and suddenly you’re looking at a pineapple where a sea sponge lives. It’s crazy and impossible, as it always is, from The Sound of Music to The SpongeBob Musical, and it’s beautiful.
See The SpongeBob Musical at the Malonga Casquelourd Center for The Arts, 1428 Alice St. in Oakland, March 2-4 at 7:30 p.m., and March 4-5 at 2 p.m. Purchase tickets online at showtix4u, or at the theater an hour before showtime. Note from the producers: “Leg room in the audience is not spacious. We recommend that our taller patrons purchase tickets in Row AA-A or on an aisle. Feel free to also bring seat cushions as well, as the seats are “worn in.” The best view is from Sections Left and Right.
Gene Kahane is the founder of the Foodbank Players, a lifelong teacher, and former Poet Laureate for the City of Alameda. Reach him at [email protected]. His writing is collected at AlamedaPost.com/Gene-Kahane.