Thanks to Wales Millennium Centre for providing us with tickets for the purpose of this review
You might have thought that the hottest ticket in town last night was Coldplay at the Principality Stadium but for my nine year old it was The SpongeBob Musical which is in Cardiff’s Wales Millennium Centre until Saturday as part of its first UK tour.
The show is based on the popular Nickelodeon cartoon which, since first hit TV screens in 1999 and is now watched in more than 200 countries in more than 55 languages. Yet it’s not just families with young children in the audience. SpongeBob has something of a quirky cult following among lots of students and young adults, who were out in force at last night’s press performance, many sporting SpongeBob t-shirts, fancy dress and, my personal favourite, the woman in a fluffy bright yellow dress featuring the famous cartoon character’s face.
I must admit I had my reservations as to what to expect from this musical. We’re familiar enough with the cartoon and its main characters but it was never a programme that my children watched obsessively in the same way they did with Peppa Pig or Paw Patrol for example. I wasn’t quite sure how it would fare as a musical. I’m sure there were some references from the cartoon which passed me by, but we found it thoroughly entertaining, laugh out loud funny and with plenty of feel-good vibes.
We join SpongeBob SquarePants as he wakes up in – as you may well know from the famous theme tune – his pineapple under the sea to discover that Bikini Bottom is under threat from a giant volcano that is about to erupt and destroy their home. SpongeBob and his friends must come together to save the fate of their under-the-sea world, while resident baddie Plankton tries to sabotage their attempts.
Lewis Cornay plays SpongeBob – more human-looking than sponge, but delightfully endearing and funny, and getting that voice spot on. A brilliantly comical Irfan Damani plays Patrick Star, his (as they tell us one song) BFF, who finds his head turned by a shoal of admiring fish. Gareth Gates – still most famous for Pop Idol way back in 2001/2 but with a string of successful musical roles behind him including Les Miserables and Legally Blonde – is the grumpy Squidward, complete with a fantastic tap dancing routine that shows off his extra legs.
One of our favourite performances of the night came from Divina De Campo, drag superstar and finalist in Ru Paul’s Drag Race, as Sheldon J Plankton, who along with Karen the Computer (Hannah Lowther) is determined to thwart the friends’ attempts to save themselves and their home.
All of this is set to a dynamic mish-mash of all-singing, all-dancing upbeat musical numbers. Unusually for a musical, each song has been written by a different pop or rock artist, including John Legend, Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith, Cyndi Lauper, Panic! At The Disco, The Flaming Lips and lots more. Such an eclectic soundtrack keeps the show moving, as you never quite know what’s coming next.
Add in a panto-esque opening with Patchy the Pirate in both the first and second act, some wonderfully colourful costumes and wigs, cartoon-style choreography where the characters all move in synch, and humour that works on different levels for adults and children, and the result is a delightfully silly couple of hours of pure entertainment that left us with big smiles on our faces.
Age guidance wise, the show is suitable for ages five and above, with no admittance to under 2s. The running time is around two hours and 30 minutes, including an interval. If I’m being picky, it could have done with losing 15-20 minutes for the sake of the younger audience members but otherwise this is great family entertainment. Slightly bonkers and chaotic but very enjoyable indeed.
The SpongeBob Musical is at Wales Millennium Centre until Saturday 10 June. Tickets are still available, costing from £12. See the Wales Millennium Centre website for more information, including how to book.