The SpongeBob Musical | Ford Center for the Performing Arts, Oriental Theatre | Theater & Performance | Chicago Reader
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Joan Marcus

When: Wednesdays-Sundays. Continues through July 10 2016
Price: $30-$85
Nickelodeon was just getting out of peak weirdness when it debuted Stephen Hillenburg's inviting animated series about a patty-flipping bachelor at the bottom of the sea. Unlike a lot of 90s cartoon characters, SpongeBob made unbridled joy seem cool. Tina Landau's and Kyle Jarrow's pre-Broadway tryout does right by the little guy—the whole community of Bikini Bottom, in fact—by cleverly translating the franchise's hallmark style, running gags, metacomedy, and personalities to the stage. Songs by a cavalcade of contemporary musicians (Cyndi Lauper, Panic! At the Disco, Plain White T's, etc) somehow manage to get upstaged by a slop-rock rundown of the TV show theme song, but even the most generic show tunes are well-executed toe tappers. The real heart of the show, though, is its spectacular design—the Rube Goldberg "volcano debris" machines are a hoot. —Dan Jakes

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