Sink or swim? The buoyant ‘SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical’ makes a big splash with audiences!

Book by Kyle Jarrow. Until December 22 at the Meridian Hall, 1 Front Street East. On tour, https://thespongebobmusical.com.

Leaving their underwater homes, the cast from the critically acclaimed SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical is now onto bigger adventures and is touring throughout North America. And so, if you’re suffering from too-much-bad-news-in-the-world syndrome, then this show is your much needed feel-good antidote. Optimistic and uplifting, nostalgic and whimsical, SpongeBob SquarePants will feed the soul for kids and the kids-at-heart.

The Meridian Hall in Toronto, Canada brings to life the quirky community known as Bikini Bottom, a smorgasbord of memorable, quirky, and lovable childhood sea characters. Before the show even starts, you will be instantly mesmerized by the stage and begin to see why SpongeBob SquarePants won the Tony Award for Best Scenic Design of a Musical. Designer David Zinn takes this aquatic motif to imaginative, new depths. From sequins and tailcoats to oversized jellyfish, the show has a consistently fantastical, bejewelled, and awe-inspiring effect. What I love the most though is their transformative use of ordinary household items: cardboard box mountains and glow-in-the-dark sponges are creatively and playfully used to communicate suspenseful environments and tender emotions.

Following a small kerfuffle with a pirate, the audience then plunges right in with SpongeBob (Lorenzo Pugliese) welcoming us to his eclectic community through a series of powerhouse songs. This loaded score features an impressive suite of artists to take us on our journey of how our trio of friends, SpongeBob, Sandy (Daria Pilar Refuse), and Patrick (Beau Bradshaw), will save the day. Toe-tapping catchy songs are written by great artists like Cyndi Lauper and Rob Hyman, Yolanda Adams, and Lady Antebellum. The show boasts a variety of styles from an epic hip-hop rap by T.I for the villainous duo Plankton (Tristan McIntyre) and Karen (Caitlin Ort), all the way to a flashy tap dance number by They Might Be Giants for Squidward (Cody Cooley), a jaded struggling artist.

Throughout it all, this musical successfully balances the cartoon zaniness by providing humanizing conflicts, issues, and pressures for every individual. There are high stakes and every character has clear, strong wants and needs. Will SpongeBob rise to the challenge? Will Sandy find her place? Will Patrick make the right choice? Will Squidward get his moment? And will Plankton and Karen succeed with their scheme?

The show further offers a more serious reflection into our land mammal lives. As this fictitious undersea community is on the brink of catastrophe, these aquatic citizens face various trials and tribulations that parallel our current political, sociological, and environmental landscape. Meaningful themes of xenophobia vs. acceptance, climate change, and (dis) trust in the government, media, and science are all explored in this Nickelodeon show intended for children.

I recognize that there is much skepticism around the show. Die-hard fans and ’90s babies, like this author admittedly, may feel hesitation towards the adaptation of a signature childhood staple. For those who did not have the pleasure of growing up with SpongeBob, the show just looks foreign and foolish. But SpongeBob SquarePants defies expectations by providing a juggernaut, high-energy performance of a deftly written and entertaining story, while remaining authentic to its classic silliness, goodwill, and spirit.

It is easy to see why SpongeBob SquarePants received twelve Tony nominations in 2018 (the most that year, tying with Mean Girls ). And so, if you do not know the answer to the age-old question, “Are you ready, kids, for the SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical?” I’ll give you the answer. It is a resounding and unequivocal, “AYE AYE CAPTAIN!”

Tony Award-winning musical ‘Waitress’ shows that the pursuit of one’s happiness isn’t as easy-as-pie

By Jessie Nelson and Sara Bareilles. Until August 18 at the Ed Mirvish Theatre, 244 Victoria St. mirvish.com or 1-800-461-3333.

You may have heard of this rags-to-riches story before: there is an ordinary server in a diner who accomplishes her dreams. The big difference in Waitress, the Tony Award-winning musical, is that the rags for Jenna (Christine Dwyer) is her toxic relationship with Earl (Jeremy Woodward), and her riches are independence and freedom.

This heartwarming slice-of-life story provides both a realistic and optimistic perspective of our relationships and life goals. The opening number may make you feel skeptical that the show will be saturated with warm and fuzzies, but it quickly pivots from saccharine to sobering and serious as the central problem unravels: the troubles for our beloved pie-maker are exacerbated by an unplanned pregnancy.

Throughout this rollercoaster of emotion, we meet an eclectic roster of characters who support and help Jenna navigate throughout her journey. Becky (Melody A. Betts) and Dawn (Ephie Aardema) are Jenna’s dear and true friends who will help her in any way they can. Dr. Pomatter (Steven Good) is a handsome and affable doctor who turns Jenna’s emotions upside-down. And Joe (Richard Kline) is a grumpy regular customer, but who also cares deeply for his friendly server. 

The truest delight in this show is the score by Sara Bareilles. Like a chalkboard menu listing tantalizing baked good options (which all end up being excellent choices), Waitress has a wide ranging mix of hit musical numbers. We are blessed for Sara’s versatility as Waitress showcases bluesy jazz, upbeat pop, catchy percussions, dramatic ballads, and even campy theatrics.

Ultimately, Jenna’s story isn’t an easy fairy tale. It shows us that in order for us to be happy, healthy, and safe in life, it requires hard work, the support of our loved ones, and the courage to make difficult decisions. This musical has a happy ending so it lets you have your pie-in-the-sky dreams, but it is also sincerely grounded with a real truth on emotional boundaries.

Waitress presents a dark reality of traditionally presented happy-go-lucky domestic relationships. But it also paints a hopeful vision in what may feel like bleak times. Like a sweet and tart strawberry rhubarb pie, Waitress successfully accomplishes an entertaining and inspiring balance between both spectrums. 

Patrick enjoys theatre and is an amateur writer in Toronto.