A Different Kind of Star Power

Who lives in a pineapple under the sea? And the topic for a new Broadway musical is he? Yes, SpongeBob SquarePants is coming to Broadway in a new musical adaptation based on this Bikini Bottom resident. It has had musical fans confused, bamboozled and up-in-arms, but the most recent complaint is rather bamboozling itself!


SpongeBob SquarePants is not the first cartoon to make its way over to the Great White Way. Shrek took over a Broadway stage back in 2008. Perennial favourite Annie was inspired by a newspaper comic strip. And then there is the entire franchise of Disney musical endeavours – The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Little Mermaid just to name a few – which have gone on to break box office records and become some of the most popular shows in musical history. Yet, the choice of this more comical subject matter has audiences talking.

But the most recent complaint is an interesting one. This week, the casting for two major roles was announced. The yellow, absorbent and porous sponge will be played by the virtually unknown Ethan Slater and Lili Cooper will take on the role of his Chipmunk friend Sandy. And all of a sudden audiences are confused why a star hasn’t been cast in the lead role.

The answer is simple . . . There’s no need.

While there may not be a star in the traditional sense, this musical has all the star power that it needs. The SpongeBob SquarePants brand.

The reason why you cast a star in a show is to provide certainty for the audience that they will enjoy the experience. They may be uncertain about the content of a play or a musical, but they will still go to see a famous star perform right in front of them. Well this show is no different except the star isn’t the person, it is the brand. The SpongeBob SquarePants brand provides all the reassurance that this show’s potential audience needs. It is enough for kids, who are fans of the show, and their parents to have enough confidence that they will find it exciting and value for money.

But that still leaves out half of the audience . . .

The content reassures all parents that their kids will enjoy the show, but what will reassure the parents that they can still enjoy the musical? This is the other major style of star power which has recently been taking over Broadway . . . the composers.

Kinky Boots had Cyndi Lauper. Elton John has blown audiences away with The Lion King, Aida and Billy Elliot. And pop sensation Sara Bareilles is about to bring her highly acclaimed Waitress to New York. But SpongeBob is no different.

Music for this cartoon transition has been written by a whole raft of contemporary and classic music stars including John Legend, Cyndi Lauper, Lady Antebellum, Steven Tyler, T.I., Panic! At the Disco and many more. And there’s the reassurance for the parents. In the same way that the Shrek movie franchise is packed with jokes for older audience members, this musical is full of music for older audience members.

Time will only tell how this musical performs in the high stakes Broadway arena. But if they are targeting New York visitors, then they could be onto a low-risk, high-reward formula!

P.S. Plus, if it is good enough for the most Tony-awarded Broadway performer, Audra McDonald, then it is good enough for everyone!