Why this Broadway bound musical worries me.

I try to remain super positive about our lovely little industry, even when things make me go “Ummmm?”

I had one of those, “Ok, Ken, stay positive.  Stay positive.  No cracks.  Stay positive,” moments a few weeks ago when a new musical announced that it was on its way to Broadway.

That musical?

SpongeBob SquarePants.

Hey!  I said stay positive!

In an obvious “We’re getting our butts kicked by Disney” move, Nickelodeon and its ginormous parent company, Viacom, are trying to get into the game.

So what concerns me?

Well, allow me to let the comments on the Entertainment Weekly article about the announcement speak  for me:

I feel like they’ll put anything on Broadway these days. And that’s not always such a good thing . . .


This is just so dumb and ridiculous. Can’t they give this tired franchise a 10 year break or something? And can Broadway do something original?

Look, I’ll admit, I can be as commercial as they come, and if there were unlimited Broadway theaters, I’d say come one, come all, to shows based on animated kids television shows or shows based on office supplies or whatever.  But in an era when Broadway theaters are in such high demand, I wonder if SpongeBob is the best use of our space?  (And I’m sure that strange little character will get a theater, because, well, Viacom has billions of dollars and billions of political favors to call in.)

Broadway has gotten more and more Vegas-y over the years, and more and more theme park-y.  And while grosses are up, I’m concerned that if we usher in shows like SpongeBob our reputation may suffer (as evidenced by the comments above – and by how I’m sure you all feel about this idea).  Years ago, a SpongeBob musical would just tour around the country (and world) making gobs of money (which SpongeBob has done), but it seems the success of Disney on Broadway has made the executives at Viacom want to march into NYC and make a bigger mark.

But SpongeBob isn’t Beauty and the Beast, or The Lion King or even The Little Mermaid.  For these musicals and their movies, the source stories were epic, classic, hero journey structures that appealed to all generations, and will for decades.  I went to The Lion King on a date.  You think SpongeBob will be a date show?  Instead of coming from an organic place of “let’s make a show that people will love” it seems to be coming from a place of “let’s make a show that will make us money.”  (And that usually never ends well.)

All this means that the Producers of SB have their work cut out for them for sure.  I do give them a ton of credit for hiring the supremely talented Tina Landau to captain the Spongey ship.  (Although I do question their choice of a pop-soup score that is to be provided by “Aerosmith, T.I., Sara Bareilles, Lady Antebellum, and John Legend.”  I guess it could work, but it feels like another purely commercial play.  There is a reason why one composer/lyricist team writes most Broadway musicals.  And they could have gained so much more legitimacy by hiring a tried and true musical theater team.)

Now, I could be wrong . . .  and SpongeBob could be a generation-busting fantastic musical that could revolutionize the form.  And I hope to G above that I am wrong, and that it is just that.

But I’m worried that it won’t be.  And I’m worried that the Broadway that supports that kind of show, over original work by new authors, by independent producers, is just not the Broadway where I want to be.

Ok, I’m done.  I’ll be more positive tomorrow.  Promise.

But in the meantime, what do you think of SpongeBob coming to Broadway?


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Ken created one of the first Broadway podcasts, recording over 250 episodes over 7 years. It features interviews with A-listers in the theater about how they “made it”, including 2 Pulitzer Prize Winners, 7 Academy Award Winners and 76 Tony Award winners. Notable guests include Pasek & Paul, Kenny Leon, Lynn Ahrens and more.