SpongeBob's Bikini Bottom On Broadway — And In Danger The SpongeBob SquarePants musical is directed by Tina Landau. Even in the face of a dangerous volcano, she says SpongeBob "really reminds us to experience each moment with joy."
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SpongeBob's Bikini Bottom On Broadway — And In Danger

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SpongeBob's Bikini Bottom On Broadway — And In Danger

SpongeBob's Bikini Bottom On Broadway — And In Danger

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Here's an idea for a musical. The end is near. It was just a day for the inhabitants of Bikini Bottom to figure out how to save themselves from a powerful volcano that's about to explode. Who can we count on to come through? Well, who lives in a pineapple under the sea? Absorbent and yellow and porous is he.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "(JUST A) SIMPLE SPONGE")

ETHAN SLATER: (As SpongeBob SquarePants, singing) Sure, I spend my days floating around, head in the bubbles and my feet on the ground. But there is more to me than just my name. Give me a chance, and I could change the game. And maybe one day Mr. Krabs will say, the Krusty Krab's yours. It's your lucky day.

SIMON: That's Ethan Slater as the sea sponge that not only has personality but has become a multimillion-dollar enterprise and is now on stage - "SpongeBob SquarePants," the Broadway musical, based on the characters created by Steven Hillenburg with a book by Kyle Jarrow and music by - I have to take a breath here - a stellar group that includes Cyndi Lauper, Flaming Lips, David Bowie, Brian Eno, Steven Tyler, Joe Perry, John Legend, Jonathan Coulton, They Might Be Giants and many more. The show is co-created and directed by Tina Landau, who joins us in our studios in New York.

Thanks so much for being with us.

TINA LANDAU: Hi, Scott. Happy to be here.

SIMON: Everybody kind of knows SpongeBob, and some people have grown up with him. What are the particular challenges about taking a fantasy comic book world that is so well known and putting it on stage?

LANDAU: Oh, the challenges are many, many, many. The one thing I knew from the beginning was that I wasn't interested in doing a show with one of those big, foamy mascot-head costumes.

SIMON: Yeah.

LANDAU: So I pitched to Nickelodeon the idea that, if we are in the theater, we want to relate to these characters. It's an opportunity to get to know them in a more directly accessible way, so they need to be people that we can see and feel for and come to believe are sea creatures by what they do through their bodies and their voices and all of that. But it was important to me to keep the performers accessible.

SIMON: I hope this doesn't sound too daft - but there are some - all right, serious might be the word. There are some serious overtones in "Spongebob." I mean, there's a volcano brewing, for goodness' sake.

LANDAU: Yes. You know, we tried to find a story that had high stakes. So what better way to do that than to say the end of the world is possibly coming tomorrow? So you know, our book writer, Kyle, likes to describe it as "Armageddon" meets "Our Town" meets "SpongeBob."

But it's interesting because we've been working on the show for quite a while. But in the last year or two - and particularly in the last year - it has become increasingly felt to us that this story is not a very distant metaphor for what it feels like being in the world at this moment - that, you know, it's a society where people feel like things are falling apart. And there is fear. And what does a community do when they are afraid that their lifestyle and their homes and all that are threatened? They do various things - they turn against each other, they exploit each other, they blame the outsider. There's all sorts of things that go on in this show that have always been there but somehow seem eerily resonant at the moment.

SIMON: Well, I was going to ask you 'cause it's impossible to sit in the audience and not notice, for example, you have the mayor of the town saying, don't trust the media. They never...

LANDAU: Yes.

SIMON: ...Tell the truth. And then - oh, the heart-wrenching story - heart-stopping - Sandy.

LANDAU: Yes.

SIMON: Maybe we need to explain. A squirrel, a scientist, lives in a bubble on the ocean floor - she's trying to figure out a way to stop the volcano debris from coming down on everyone. And somebody spray-paints a graffiti sign that says, don't trust any land mammals.

LANDAU: Yeah. It says, actually, land mammals go home...

SIMON: OK, yeah.

LANDAU: ...Which is, you know, a phrase that has been applied - fill in the blank, go home - to many different groups and ethnicities. And yes, in this marine habitat, Sandy is a land mammal. And when the town needs to find a scapegoat - in this case, they find a scape-squirrel (ph). And they blame Sandy and her explanations and her solutions, which are scientific. So they don't buy the science, and they want her out.

SIMON: Do you have a song you'd like to point us to?

LANDAU: That's such a hard question. I'm so in love with all of them. You know, the first one that came to mind - but it's not an obvious one - is called "Tomorrow Is" by Wayne Coyne and the Flaming Lips. It's the Act 1 closer, and I guess my heart just goes there because it's - unlike a lot of the crazy antics in the show, it's a really beautiful, anthemic piece where the town sings as one at the end of it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TOMORROW IS")

COMPANY: (As characters, singing) We only have tomorrow to somehow find a way, to save ourselves tomorrow. There's only one more day.

SIMON: After seeing the show, I got to tell you. I wind up liking "Spongebob" even more.

LANDAU: Good.

SIMON: He's a sea sponge...

LANDAU: Yeah.

SIMON: ...Right? But maybe because he's a sea sponge he understands the preciousness of life and the one chance we have to do something. And probably the best way to invest it is to try to be kind.

LANDAU: Yes. You're going to make me cry, Scott. Yes, that's so true. You know, the last song in the show is called "Best Day Ever." And one of the gifts that SpongeBob has is his appreciation of the moment.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BEST DAY EVER")

SLATER: (As SpongeBob SquarePants, singing) Volcanic doomsday caught us unaware, but we're still here. And Mr. Sun's up there.

LANDAU: Even from the beginning, he and his best friend, Patrick, are confined to Patrick's rock because there's an emergency. And SpongeBob says to him, but we're here together, and we don't need anything but our imagination to make something of this moment. He really reminds us to experience each moment with joy. And I would say that's the thing that I received most working on the show was his joy. It was infectious. And I hope that's what our audiences take away at the end of the night, too.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BEST DAY EVER")

COMPANY: (As characters, singing) Fa-ah-ah-ah (ph)...

SIMON: Tina Landau, co-creator and director of "SpongeBob SquarePants" the Broadway musical, thanks so much for being with us.

LANDAU: Thank you for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BEST DAY EVER")

SLATER: (As SpongeBob SquarePants, singing) It's the best day ever.

COMPANY: (As characters, singing) The best day ever.

SLATER: (As SpongeBob SquarePants, singing) It's the best day ever.

COMPANY: (As characters, singing) The best day ever.

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