SpongeBob’s Big Bold Musical Adventure Comes to the Broward Center

  • The contemporary musical, intended for audiences of all ages, tells the story of SpongeBob’s race to save Bikini Bottom from annihilation

Anthony Llerandi describes SpongeBob as a forever optimist in the Slow Burn Theatre Company production of “The SpongeBob Musical.” (Photo by Larry Marano).

For anyone living under a pineapple during the musical’s original Broadway run, Slow Burn Theatre Company brings the nautical nonsense of “SpongeBob SquarePants” to the Amaturo Theater at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. It opens Saturday, June 8 and runs through Sunday, June 23.

Adapted from the Nickelodeon cartoon, the musical tells the story of SpongeBob, a sea sponge who lives in an underwater pineapple, and his friends’ race to save the undersea city of Bikini Bottom from annihilation from an impending volcano eruption at nearby Mt. Humongous.

Patrick Fitzwater, artistic director and co-founder of Slow Burn Theatre Company, along with Matthew Korinko, started Slow Burn in 2009 to bring contemporary musicals to the South Florida stage. They opened their first show, “Bat Boy: The Musical” in February 2010 at West Boca Community High School, and started staging productions at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in the Fall of 2015, where they opened with the musical “Big Fish.”

“We got into this to provide professional theater that was, maybe not, the general fare that you would see all the time,” says Fitzwater. “Our company also gives audiences another opportunity to catch something that maybe they didn’t get to see on their one trip to New York during the season.”

The company picks its season about two years in advance, so when they started reading the SpongeBob script, Fitzwater says it resonated because the world was just coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the script, when a volcano threatens to wipe out Bikini Bottom, the government takes over and puts everybody indoors, says Fitzwater, and a hero emerges that will lead the town out of the disaster.

“But they wrapped it up in SpongeBob, which for me, SpongeBob is basically comfort food,” says Fitzwater. “Everybody knows SpongeBob, and how you feel when you’re watching SpongeBob, so we figured it was the perfect title.”

Fitzwater describes the musical as “so extra.”

“It is bright. It is beautiful. It is fun. It is effervescent,” he says. “It’s like a can of soda pop that was just shaken up. It’s going to be gorgeous.”

Anthony Llerandi, who plays SpongeBob in the musical, and Fitzwater agree that the long-running Nickelodeon animated show and the musical share the same humor and style. But, the musical is more than just child’s play. 

“To be honest, I believe that the adults are going to enjoy the show more than the kids are actually going to enjoy the show,” says Fitzwater. “The kids are going to love the fact that they’re seeing SpongeBob and the characters and the music and the brightness and bigness of it, and being under the sea, and the adults are going to leave going ‘Holy, cow, I just accidentally watched a very smart piece of theater’.”

The musical has enough nods to the cartoon to satisfy SpongeBob fans, but also stands on its own as a theatrical production. Fitzwater is joined by the creative team of choreographer Reynel Reynaldo, tap choreographer Nicolette Quintero, music director Eden Marte, scenic designer and technical director Timothy Dickey, costume designer Rick Peña and lighting designer Clifford Spulock.

Fitzwater says, “The script is great. The music is great. The heart of it is great. And I really think that’s what the adults are going to grab onto if you can get past the hurdle of the fact that it’s not just a cartoon sponge. It’s an actor using the likeness of that character to tell a story.”

Llerandi, a senior studying musical theater at Ithaca College, first met Fitzwater while attending a theater intensive for high school students during the pandemic. Fitzwater, a guest coach at the intensive, was impressed with Llerandi.

“This kid is amazing,” says Fitzwater.

Llerandi says he would send in auditions to Slow Burn, hoping to get his foot in the door. 

“And, then he auditioned for SpongeBob and I think we finally found the right slot for him to come into the company,” says Fitzwater. 

Llerandi of Fernandina Beach, Florida, the birthplace of the modern shrimping industry near Amelia Island, says he grew up a big SpongeBob fan, which helped prepare him for the role.

“I watched the show religiously. Even to this day, sometimes my little brother and I watch it together. The movie is one of my favorites in the world,” says Llerandi. “So, I’ve kind of studied the Sponge and what it takes to be the Sponge. You just have to radiate. Bob is the epitome of being empathetic and sympathetic and being, just, a ball of joy.”

For Llerandi, SpongeBob symbolizes community.

“Everybody in town knows his name. It’s all wrapped up into this one little guy who’s forever optimistic,” he says.

Fitzwater says that although the show does not feature a live orchestra, the show is still interactive, with the theater being transformed into a huge underwater bubble party.

“We do have someone playing the maestro and there’s live sound effects that are done from a foley artist,” says Fitzwater.

Fitzwater says that a foley artist dates back to radio, when sound effects for a production were made using props like jiggling cans.

“So, the foley artist will make these sound effects live, so he actually acts almost like the orchestra part of the show, and then you have somebody doing the music that is like a DJ techno aspect of the show,” says Fitzwater.

The musical also features original songs by contemporary artists including John Legend, Sara Bareilles, Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith, Cyndi Lauper, Panic! At The Disco, T.I., and We Might Be Giants.

Fitzwater, who encourages everyone who attends the show to wear yellow and snap a picture on the yellow carpet, promises a good time. He also says the musical, like SpongeBob himself, lives outside the normal realm of what people expect.

“Musical theater is always being put in a box, and this show busts the box to pieces,” says Fitzwater.

IF YOU GO

WHAT: Slow Burn Theatre Company’s “The SpongeBob Musical.”

WHERE:  Amaturo Theater at The Broward Center for the Performing Arts,
  201 SW 5th Ave., Ft. Lauderdale.

WHEN: Opens Saturday, June 8 and runs through Sunday, June 23. 1 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.

TICKETS: $54, $62.50, $80, and $88; student and teacher discounted tickets will be available in limited quantities with prices varying by show.

INFORMATION: www.browardcenter.org


This story was produced by Broward Arts Journalism Alliance (BAJA), an independent journalism program of the Broward County Cultural Division. Visit artscalendar.com for more stories about the arts in South Florida.

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