'SpongeBob' combines nostalgia with new look

Photos by Ralph Freso / Slideshow

"SpongeBob SquarePants The Musical" has submerged Ethington Theatre into the depths of Bikini Bottom. Students have the opportunity to breathe the same air — or in this case, the same water — as their favorite childhood characters.

The musical production put on by the College of Arts and Media at Grand Canyon University allows the audience to experience the beloved yellow sponge through a new lens.

“It’s a chance to see your favorite childhood characters in three dimensions, living and breathing in the same room,” said director Michael Kary.

From left, Christian Shepherd as SpongeBob SquarePants, Peyton Daugherty as Sandy and Noah Darfus as Patrick are an example of the friendship values displayed in "SpongeBob SquarePants The Musical."

Although based on the Nickelodeon television series that premiered in 1999, the script deviates from the typical plot. It’s a new story — but one that will teleport the audience back to middle school.

Danielle Brown, who also plays Foley Fish, says the audience reactions are what makes her role as sound designer so rewarding.

“I want the audience to feel that sense of nostalgia and joy but also enjoy this new experience because it’s not based on a specific episode,” sound designer Danielle Brown said. “It’s a fun but new take of 'SpongeBob SquarePants,' so have that nostalgia but also enjoy a story you’ve never seen before.”

The production, which features soundtracks of David Bowie and Panic at the Disco, is nothing like "Hamlet," which opened the academic year at Ethington.

Christian Shepherd shifted into study mode for his role -- he did not watch the series growing up.

“It’s a complete 180 coming from one of Shakespeare’s best tragedies, spinning around to a fun musical based off of 'SpongeBob SquarePants,'” said Christian Shepherd, who plays SpongeBob. “To transition from the intensity of 'Hamlet' to constant high energy is crazy. The rehearsal atmosphere is different — you’re here to have fun on stage and bring these nostalgic characters back to life.”

David Loewen, as Plankton, plays the antagonist.

But Kary didn't grow up watching SpongeBob. Brown, cast as Foley Fish did, and her role in the play tasks her with mimicking sounds ranging from SpongeBob’s iconic squeaky rubber boots to the shuffling of Mr. Krab's feet.

Sound effects play an integral role in the magic of what makes the musical come to life. The task is daunting — but nonetheless rewarding.

“I know all the bells and whistles of how many things are in motion at all times. The audience gets to experience the end product, which is fun because I hear how magical and fun it feels,” Brown said. “But in my mind I’m thinking, ‘OK, I’m pushing this button at this time,’ or ‘I’m turning on this mic at this time.' It’s really rewarding because I know how much time and energy is put into making that happen.”’

SpongeBob SquarePants The Musical brings a new depth to the characters that the audience does not receive from the television series.

Continuing the magic is set designer Nick Boisvert, who strategically designed the set to facilitate seamless transitions and spark the childlike imagination many of us may have lost over the years.

Boisvert was advised by Assistant Dean Bill Symington to "think about how children’s theatre would do it." That required Boisvert to dive into his imagination and think critically about the scenic displays.

The musical provides a soundtrack of rock and pop hits featuring David Bowie and Panic at the Disco.

Rather than building one set, Boisvert designed it to be multiple fragments held by the actors. Some hold doors, windows and other shapes strategically positioned to suggest a certain building or object.

“For a lot of people, there’s going to be a certain level of magic that happens when they watch the musical,” Boisvert said. “There’s a level of magic that comes from seeing Patrick’s rock being built in front of your eyes and then having it disperse and become something else.”

Mark Fearey conducts the remote orchestra in the Recording Studio during rehearsal for "SpongeBob SquarePants The Musical."

While most theatres place the orchestra pit in house, Eric Johnson has found a way to take music performed in the GCU Recording Studio next door and transmit it to Ethington simultaneously. The studio's manager pulled it off for "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" last spring and is doing it again.

The 17-piece orchestra band, comprised of eight CAM students and nine professionals, watch the play performed live on a TV screen and wait for instrumental cues from conductor Mark Fearey.

“It was about a four-year dream of mine to allow an orchestra to perform up here for the musical productions,” Johnson said. “I figured if the Grammy Awards orchestra can do it, then it was possible to do it here, too.”

Violinist Sophia Ream is one of many members who provide the live music heard during the play.

"SpongeBob SquarePants The Musical" would not be what it is without all these parts coming together to create the world of Bikini Bottom.

“When all the lights, set, costumes and sounds come together, you’re completely submerged into a different world,” Shepherd said. “It's fun to embrace this new world and interact with all the iconic places from the show onstage.”

And it doesn't matter how old you are.

“Yes, it is a kid show, but it’s for the kid in all of us,” said Kary, laughing about his next confession. “There’s a part to me that still longs to be silly and to do something larger than life. 'SpongeBob SquarePants The Musical' is for everybody, whether you’re 6 years old or 60.”

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IF YOU GO:

What: "SpongeBob SquarePants The Musical"

Where: Ethington Theatre

When: 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays, Nov. 11-13 and Nov. 18-20

Tickets

Contact staff writer Lydia P. Robles at 602-639-7665 or [email protected]

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GCU News: Unusual stage shines light on 'Hamlet' lessons

GCU News: Stage is set for another big theatre season

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