Thursday, 13 April 2023

REVIEW: The SpongeBob Musical at the Mayflower, Southampton

The Mayflower in Southampton must be the number one venue for Regional Touring musicals and over the last year we have enjoyed Fisherman’s Friend, Les Misérables, Dreamgirls, The Osmonds, Six, and My Fair Lady all of which have visited the huge south coast venue. They must have been very pleased to secure the UK Premiere of The Spongebob Musical which played there last week before a regional tour of seventeen more venues through to September. However, there is only one word to sum up the experience of seeing this show, disappointing.

If you are a fan of the 1999 TV cartoon, as some of the adult bookers must be, you will be disappointed. If you expected to see a show that gathered Tony Awards on its 2018 Broadway premiere of over 300 performances, you might be disappointed by the low production values which look so cheap on the massive Mayflower stage. If it is the writing credits that make you book such as David Bowie and Brian Eno’s “No Control” or Cyndi Lauper’s “Hero is my middle name” or “Bikini Bottom Boogie” credited to Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith, you will be disappointed that so few of the songs are memorable or notable. It is only at the very end do we get the iconic SpongeBob SquarePants theme tune. If you are looking for some strong message of an eco-friendly saviour against climate change and pollution of the seas you will be disappointed although there are hints about this in the set of plastic bottles to represent Mount Humongous, the volcano that threatens Bikini Bottom.

Yet of course, if you are aged between 4 and 6 years old you may enjoy the lively inane action, bonkers characterisations, and cheerful tunes and in an Easter holiday week, the Mayflower was full of these young kids who sat quietly through the two- and half-hour show enjoying its silliness. However, will there be enough of these bookers to sustain the show through its long regional tour? Richard Arnold, from Good Morning Britain, turns up on a TV screen as Perch Perkins and Alex Gaumond, an experienced West End performer, does the French voice-over to attempt to stitch the story together and add a touch of quality.

There are moments that work. Squidward Q Tentacles' costume of four legs works very well and every movement he does makes you smile including a fun tap dance routine. Richard J Hunt with large red claws and a sideways walk makes an entertaining Eugene Krabs, the owner of the Krusty Krab café and Sara Freer has fun stomping around the stage as his daughter, Pearl Krabs. Sam Beveridge adds a bit of pirate mania as Patchy opening both acts including the silly “Poor Pirates” song before giving away a Nick Watch to someone in the front row! You can’t fault the energy and squeaky voice of Lewis Cornay (who was excellent in the wonderful Whistle Down the Wind at the Watermill last year) as Spongebob as he bounces around the stage and climbs up and down multiple moving stairways in a non-stop performance.

Musical theatre lovers will soon enjoy more familiar quality shows but if any went last week to the Mayflower, they would have been disappointed unless they were aged between 4 and 6. It must be hoped that those young children will return for Snow White and the seven dwarfs this Christmas which will surely be a show with high production values, memorable tunes and entertainment for all ages in a way that SpongeBob could only disappoint.

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★

Seat: Stalls, Row W | Price of Ticket: £24.50

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