Tuesday, January 9, 2018

REVIEW: SpongeBob SquarePants: Original Cast Recording

So, I'm at a distinct disadvantage in reviewing the Original Cast Recording of SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical. (Masterworks Broadway) I haven't seen the show yet, and I've never seen a single second of the cartoon on which the show is based.  I even considered not writing about it, but then I thought, well, why not? I mean I can certainly evaluate the quality of the songs and the recording itself.

Grade: B+

To its credit, the CD version (yes, I still get CDs) comes with a pretty comprehensive booklet, that includes a full synopsis, the lyrics and a few production stills.  But one of the things that makes this recording unique and kinda fun for those of us who don't get why Sandy Cheeks is a squirrel underwater, is that each song is written by different people. So for me, part of the fun of listening to this was trying to guess who wrote which songs (I didn't peek the first time I listened!).  It was pretty easy to pick out the songs by David Bowie, the guys from Aerosmith, The Plain White T's, and Lady Antebellum

As I continued to listen, I was struck by three things. First, the score's pastiche (by necessity?) style reminded me of early Lloyd Webber, with songs that range from show tunes to rap to country to gospel. Second, the childlike sound and quality totally fits the material, but is wonderfully subversive in its adult themes and ideology, a la Avenue Q.  And third (and perhaps even most importantly), despite its hodgepodge throw-everything-into-the-pot foundation, it is remarkably as cohesive as it is eclectic.  I think that is thanks in large part to the musical supervision of the always fantastic Tom Kitt.

Given that several of the major roles have been recast in the time between this recording and its Broadway opening (Wesley Taylor, Jon Rua and a few others are missing here), I don't think it fair to judge the recording against what might be happening on the Palace Theatre stage these days.  But I will say that everyone on the recording sounds terrific and in character.

The four main characters remain, and all four do wonderful character work that shines through and makes in impression even on those of us who haven't seen the show. Gavin Lee is acting his legs off in his big number, "I'm Not a Loser," One of my favorite actresses, Lilli Cooper is great in all of her numbers, especially her duet with SpongeBob, "Chop to the Top." Newcomer Danny Skinner does a fine job, and the chemistry he has with Ethan Slater in "BFF" and "(I Guess I) Miss You" is palpable even just listening to the songs. (The latter song is a wonderful tribute to male friendship...) Speaking of Mr. Slater, even based solely on this recording, one has to wonder how he keeps up that energy eight shows a week.  He is going to be a huge star.

At just under an hour, this is a pleasant diversion. It is a fun, enjoyable score ("Bikini Bottom Day" is this season's ear worm, for sure), and one I think I'll enjoy even more once I actually see the show.

(Full disclosure: I received a copy of the CD for free, in exchange for a review, and without any obligation to be positive in my evaluation.)

1 comment:

  1. Hurry to the show! Ethan Slater is a major discovery. And when he sings without the nasal twang - what a voice! I'm hoping he will be on Broadway for decades to come (and not stolen by television).


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