The SpongeBob Musical: Live on Stage!
R4 - Australia - Umbrella Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (17th January 2021).
The Film

"The SpongeBob Musical: Live on Stage!" (2019)

SpongeBob (played by Ethan Slater), Patrick (played by Danny Skinner), Squidward (played by Gavin Lee, and others are having a seemingly normal day underwater at Bikini Bottom. SpongBob wants to be noticed to get a promotion at The Krusty Krab, but instead of him being noticed, a bigger issue occurs when tremors start shaking the ocean floor due to a volcano nearby getting ready to erupt. The town is put under curfew and the townspeople are scared, but Sandy Cheeks (played by Christina Sajous) has an invention that could possibly stop the eruption and save everyone. But could it be done on time? Or will Plankton and Karen (played by Wesley Taylor and Katie Lee Hill) take advantage of the panicked citizens?

Marine biologist and animator Stephen Hillenburg's creation about a yellow sponge living in a pineapple under the sea was first broadcast on Nickelodeon in 1999. "SpongeBob Squarepants" has ran continuously on television for more than twenty years now, and become the network's longest running animated series and loved by audiences around the world. There have been three feature films with "The SpongeBob Squarepants Movie", "Sponge Out of Water" and "Sponge on the Run", plus numerous video games, spinoffs, and a seemingly endless amount of merchandise produced. Sadly Hollenburg died in 2018 at the fairly young age of 57 from ALS complications, but his most famous creation continues to shine, bringing its quirky absurdist humor that pays tribute to the "Looney Tunes" style of wackiness while having a unique voice of its own. Children love it, and even adults can enjoy it for some of the hidden adult humor and more serious situations that are disguised within.

In 2016 a very unusual spinoffs was produced: "The SpongeBob Musical". Instead of a DisneyLand style of approach of head to toe costume mascot performers recreating the animated characters on stage, a team of stage performers would be basically an avatar of human form, with the undersea creatures represented by people through hair, makeup and wardrobe rather than uncomfortable plushy heads. At first glance it does look very strange. Could a person embody a square headed character, or a starfish, or a plankton? Like the stage version of "The Lion King" which proved to be massively successful with a similar formula, it was due to the actors fully embodying the characters with their movements, their voices, and their personalities. "The SpongeBob Musical" was an ambitious project, and one that involved a great amount of talent behind the scenes and on stage.

With a story written by Kyle Jarrow, it would be filled by musical compositions to forward the narrative and the music came from a number of very notable guests. David Bowie, Aerosmith, Panic! At The Disco, Flaming Lips, John Legend, They Might Be Giants are a few of the artists that contributed to the songs from both existing and newly composed tracks. Having many songs composed by various artists for one musical might lead to inconsistency, but the various types of songs ranging from hip hop to rock to uplifting grand numbers, there is a lot to be found with the songs as well as the choreography that accompanies each of them, performed incredibly by all the cast. The music came from a live orchestra as well as an effects artist to fill in the soundscape.

Opening in Chicago and then moving to Broadway in 2017 for 327 performances. It was a critical favorite, nominated for 12 Tony Awards, and winning various awards at the Outer Critics Circle Awards and the Drama Desk Awards. For audiences that couldn't travel to see it live on stage, Nickelodeon aired "The SpongeBob Musical: Live on Stage!" on December 7, 2019. Shot with the Broadway cast and crew with a live audience, this version of the stage musical captured everything that was seen by the audience. Audiences could see some of the behind the scenes crew, the stagehands, and other tricks which the cameras are in favor of capturing. Where the props are thrown, where the effects artist is sitting and watching, all of these elements are presented in the television special, not masking the fact that it is made for stage and it certainly feels refreshing to see.

For the story itself, there isn't too much of a stretch to be made. Patrick gets the feeling of betrayal, SpongeBob feels he could do more, Mr. Krabs' daughter is infatuated by a boy band, Squidward is sarcastically stuck-up. Sandy being an outsider causes suspicion among the panicked. Plankton wants to cause a disturbance. There are multiple plots and storylines to be found in the nearly 2-hour runtime, and the humor is consistent with the "SpongeBob" universe in tone and timing. The actors embodying the characters do quite a good job with the performances, sometimes doing a fairly good job with the vocal impersonations as well. Ethan Slater may not look like a Sponge, Gavin Lee may not be a squid, but the way the vocalize their characters and how they move showcase great acting chops and that goes for the many others on stage as well. The story may be a bit on the average side with too many things going on when the destruction of Bikini Bottom is imminent, but the characters and their performances along with the music are the highlights of the show. In addition, the elaborate lighting and set designs to transport the audiences from the underwater locations from Mr. Krab's place to the town square to the fiery volcano are fun to see and easily visible just with some simple techniques.

The initial broadcast brought 1.7 million viewers in the United States. The live show was also broadcast a few weeks later in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, and a month later on January 4, 2020, a special sing-along version with animated subtitles was broadcast on Nickelodeon in the United States. The musical version has a lot of charm and flamboyance as well as humor and heart in the production, and shouldn't be missed by SpongeBob fans, even if the story could have used a little bit more polish to make things grander and more desperate for the characters.

Note this is a region 1/2/4 NTSC DVD

Video

Umbrella Entertainment presents the show in anamorphic 1.78:1 in the NTSC format. This is a very colorful show with elaborate costumes and setpieces with constantly changing lighting and the transfer of the HD master is quite good, though note as detailed and popping as one would hope. Some of the detail of costumes show moiring and solid backgrounds can look slightly pixelated at times. Obviously it would have benefited if this was on Blu-ray instead, but the standard definition DVD is fairly good.

The show is the extended version, running 114:21.



















Audio

English Dolby Digital 5.1
The 5.1 track is quite immersive with the musical segments which are very frequent, with the surrounds used accordingly. The voices are almost always centered and well balanced against the music and sound effects. The voices can be echoey at times as it is in a stage show environment, sounding natural and without issues to speak of.

There are no subtitles for the feature.

Extras

Sing-along Version (114:21)
The packaging is a bit misleading as it states that includes "an exclusive extended sing-along version", yet the runtime is just a bit shorter than the standard version on the disc. The sing-along version is basically identical in content. The only differences are that burned-in animated captions for the singing portions are included, as well as title cards being added which were seen before and after commercial breaks on broadcast. IMDB lists the runtime as 114 minutes. That also seems to be the runtime of the broadcast premiere. Wikipedia has a listing for the songs that were cut or trimmed from the broadcast version, but they all seem intact here on both the standard and sing-along versions on the DVD. The Sing-along version is also presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, but is encoded at a slightly lower volume for some reason.
in anamorphic 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 5.1 with burned-in English subtitles

Photo Gallery
A series of 20 stills in a manual gallery. All of them are of the actors performing on stage. None behind the scenes or anything casual.


The extras are very few to say the least. No interviews with the cast and crew, no behind the scenes footage on creating the show, no rehearsal footage, etc.

This has also been released by Nickelodeon/Paramount on DVD in the United States and is identical to the Umbrella release. This Umbrella DVD ports the same disc with the same menus and branding, just with differing disc art and packaging. It has not been released on Blu-ray anywhere unfortunately.

Packaging

The packaging states region 4 only but the disc is in fact coded for regions 1/2/4.

Overall

"The SpongeBob Musical: Live on Stage!" was an ambitious project by taking an iconic character and presenting him in a completely different way - in a human form. It might seem like a bizarre choice, but the visuals and the performances are excellent indeed, though the story itself is a bit on the average side. The Umbrella DVD features a fair transfer, but there could have been more extras to make it more worthwhile.

The Film: B Video: B Audio: A- Extras: D Overall: B-

 


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