by Mo Brady
Imagine yourself in the first days of spring of a year of the 21st century. Just before the holiday season, a new, large musical opened on Broadway without a guarantee of success. However, it has the kind of buzz from audiences and theatre insiders that might mean its golden ticket to success.
Are we talking about Wicked in 2003? Or this year's SpongeBob SquarePants? From my perspective, the two shows aren’t as different as they may initially seem. Hear me out...
They both opened in the fall.
Both SpongeBob SquarePants and Wicked opened in the fall, giving themselves a slow roll towards award season in the Spring. While most Broadway musicals eyeing awards open close to the Tony Award eligibility cut off, each of these shows chose to give themselves time to build a fanbase and the theatre community’s support before award voters completed their ballots.
They are both produced by large media companies.
Like Universal Pictures Stage Productions did with Wicked, Nickelodeon wants to claim a piece of the Broadway pie with SpongeBob Squarepants. And for good reason, Wicked has grossed about $4.5 billion worldwide thanks to a score of productions running across the globe. As Universal was able to provide substantial financial support in the early months of Wicked’s run, Nickelodeon also has deep enough pockets to keep the show afloat while word of mouth builds.
They are both loved by teens.
Both shows are based on recognizable properties. SpongeBob from its two movies and 11 seasons on Nickelodeon with more than 200 episodes. Wicked based on what is arguably one of the most popular children’s book series of all time, fortified by what imdb.com classifies as the 3rd most popular movie of all time. But perhaps more importantly, both have clever, witty outsiders as lead characters that young people can identify with. Just as I heard from teens a decade ago about their admiration for Elphie and Galinda, today’s young theatre fans see themselves in Sandy, Patrick and Squidward.
They are both true Broadway spectacles.
Whether it be Eugene Lee’s clock dragon or David Zinn’s spectacular design of Bikini Bottom, each show is a feast for the senses. In fact, if there’s any award that SpongeBob seems destined to win, it’s for Zinn’s imaginative design. But beyond the design, both have eye-catching choreography and a score full of satisfying tunes. Need a comparison from the ensemblist perspective? Both feature ensemble actors flying through the air within the first five minutes of the show.
Is SpongeBob destined for a 14+ year run like the denizens of Oz? Who can say. Will SpongeBob match Wicked’s place as the 6th most popular Broadway cast album of all time? It’s too early to know. But the pieces are there for success. But if the above isn’t enough to convince you, there is one similarity that is undeniable.
Both shows have Gaelen Gilliland.