IONIA — Dust off your Hawaiian shirts, ukuleles and tiki torches, the Ionia High School Theatre Group presents “The SpongeBob Musical” at the historic Ionia Theatre this weekend
Marley Slater, theater program director at Ionia High School, said that she was on the lookout for a show that could accommodate the huge, diverse group of students involved in theater.
“This show has really got a broad range of characters, and a lot of the characters are easily gender-swapped, so any gender can play them,” Slater explained. “I was like, that is perfect! Also, it’s well-known and it’s family friendly, so it was just perfect for us.”
The high school usually mounts their productions at Watt Auditorium in the Middle School, but “The SpongeBob Musical” involves movable sets and projections, so it’s a bit more complicated than what they have previously attempted.
Costumes were mostly improvised, cobbled together from garments the cast already owned or purchased directly from Amazon in the case of one astronaut suit. The actors were forced to use their talent to put the characters across, rather than relying on elaborate, distracting costumes and makeup.
“Most of the costuming is humanized, the costumes are more (based on) what the character wears,” Slater said. “SpongeBob won’t be an actual sponge, and our Squidward just has an extra set of pants and legs so that he looks like a squid. This was a fairly difficult costuming show because it’s a large ensemble. I have eight or 10 people who play five or six different backup characters and dancers throughout the show, and they have to switch costumes, hair and makeup (each time). That was a challenge.”
The plot isn’t really the point of this piece, but the show is set in a town on the ocean floor called Sandy Bottom, and it involves a minor bit of world-saving by the three main characters: Alina Peterson as SpongeBob SquarePants (a yellow sponge), Brooklynn Hearld as Patrick Star (a star fish) and Gracie Morgan as Sandy Cheeks (a squirrel). Helping and thwarting them along the way are a dozen or so undersea denizens, including Jayson Stokes as Mr. Krabs, Elijah Peterson as Squidward Q. Tentacles, Hunter St. John as news reporter Perch Perkins and Eddie Miller as Sheldon J. Plankton, the story’s main antagonist.
It’s a clever, fun, silly show with a talented, energetic cast, interactive sets, creative costumes, hair and makeup and good life lessons about acceptance and perseverance. Unlike most musical theater, the songs are not dull, awkward and horrible, and the high school cast does an excellent job transitioning from witty dialogue to complicated lyrics.
“It’s our joke that I was typecast, because I am a lot like Patrick in general, so it wasn’t very hard for me to connect with the character,” Hearld said. “All I needed was the voice, the personality was already there.”
“I am, quite literally, a peppy sponge,” Peterson said.
“Squidward is just kind of irritated at everyone and everything, and I can relate to that,” Peterson said. “Also, I am going to sing my solo perfectly.”
“I connected with Perch Perkins very well because he’s very dramatic, over-the-top and extra, and that’s me,” St. John said.
“I felt pretty good about playing the villain because I am evil and I am mean to people,” Miller said. “My character schemes and comes up with evil plans. I try to kill SpongeBob, but I get away with it. I’m just that good!”
“This cast is really tight-knit and we can rely on each other, so we’re not nervous,” Morgan said. “When we get nervous, we can just look at each other, and we can tell that we’re going to be okay because we’re all on stage together.”
“The SpongeBob Musical” is based on the popular Nickelodeon cartoon “SpongeBob SquarePants,” currently in its 13th season. The musical was created and written by Tina Landau and Kyle Jarrow, with songs by a slew of notable songwriters, including David Bowie, Brian Eno, the Flaming Lips, Cyndi Lauper, John Legend, Panic! At The Disco and They Might Be Giants.
The show premiered at the Oriental Theatre in Chicago in 2016 and, after a successful Broadway run, it earned 12 Tony Award nominations, toured North America and was broadcast as a TV special.
If you go …
What: “The SpongeBob Musical”
Where: Ionia Theatre
When: 7 p.m. today and Saturday and 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday
Tickets: Visit cityofionia.org/ionia-theatre.php or buy them at the box office. Adult tickets are $11, senior citizens are $9, students are $6 and children 2 and under are admitted free.