Theater review: A colorful, bouncy, talent-filled ‘SpongeBob’ at UAB

Troy Serena makes for a wonderful SpongeBob, leading the cast in UAB’s production. (Taylor Campbell Photography)

Everything about the UAB Department of Theatre’s production of “The SpongeBob Musical” screams joy.

From Kimberly Schnormeier’s colorful, cartoony and cl­­­­­­­­­­­ever costumes to Cliff Simon’s colorful, cartoony and clever set design (the last for Simon, a UAB fixture for decades) to a stage filled of colorful, cartoony and just plain fun performances, the UAB team brings SpongeBob and his crew to the stage in such a fun way. It’s total fluff, cotton candy on the stage, but sometimes that’s just what you need.

Based on “SpongeBob SquarePants,” the hugely popular children’s show that ran for 13 seasons on Nickelodeon, “The SpongeBob Musical” takes place in the underwater city of Bikini Bottom, home to SpongeBob and his friends. In the musical, the aquatic crew is facing impending disaster, the potential eruption of an underwater volcano. None of this, of course, deters SpongeBob, ever the optimist and cheerful presence.

The strong cast is led by Troy Serena, who seems born to play the part of the amiable SpongeBob. He has boundless energy and talent to max, from some deceptively difficult vocals to first-rate dancing.

His underwater castmates don’t disappoint, either. There are some strong solo turns – Joe Condon as SpongeBob’s BFF Patrick Star; Thomas McFerran as Eugene H. Krabs; Ford Beshirs as Sheldon J. Plankton, the closest thing the show has to a villain; Tyler Arnold as Squidward Q. Tentacles; Sadie Farmer as Pearl Krabs; and Victoria Chaves as Sandy Cheeks, the squirrel-turned-scientist who bands together with SpongeBob to try and stop the volcano.

But it’s during the ensemble numbers that the depth of talent in this college production really shows. This is a talented group that directors Valeria Accetta and Devin Ty Franklin have put together, whether it’s singing the eclectic score written by the likes of the Flaming Lips, Cyndi Lauper, John Legend and Panic! at the Disco (musical director Carolyn Violi’s orchestra handles the different styles well), or dancing the superb choreography of Tuan Malinowski (maybe some of the best choreography I’ve seen on a college stage).

The show is a bit long, and it drags a bit in the second act, but it manages to keep the attention of adults and kids alike.

And it will leave you with a big ol’ SpongeBob smile on your face, which is something we could all use now and then.

“The SpongeBob Musical,” a production of the UAB Department of Theatre at the Alys Stephens Center, runs through April 18. Tickets: $15 and $20.

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