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Saturday, November 25, 2017

Christopher Gattelli on Choreographing 'SpongeBob SquarePants': "It's Not Your Typical Broadway Musical"

Christopher Gattelli describes his latest cast as "unicorns," because he can't believe they exist. "It blows my mind, what they can do," he tells Dance Magazine. "They can do everything." They have to. Their characters belong to no species generally known to dance on Broadway—a crab, a squirrel, a starfish, a snail and, you guessed it, a sponge.


Photo by Joan Marcus

And the songs in the musical version of Nickelodeon's popular animated series SpongeBob SquarePants, which opens on Monday, December 4th at the Palace Theatre, are by 16 different composers, ranging from John Legend to Panic! At the Disco, from Lady Antebellum to T.I., with offerings along the way from the likes of Cyndi Lauper, Steven Tyler, The Flaming Lips, and the late David Bowie. So the choreography runs the gamut as well—tap, hip-hop, jazz, contemporary, the works. The dancing, Gattelli says, "is all over the place."

The TV series, still going strong after 18 years and two movies, is all over the place, too, as it tracks the goofy citizens of Bikini Bottom, an underwater city in the Pacific. It's for children 6 to 11, but it's loved by adults for its humor and fun-house atmosphere, is rendered in the stage version by an immersive array of flotsam and jetsam curated by set designer David Zinn.


Photo by Joan Marcus

Working within it, Gattelli notes, "is like being inside a piñata." The explosive analogy is apt—the musical's plot, conceived by director Tina Landau, puts Bikini Bottom in imminent risk of death by volcano.

Landau, an iconoclastic writer/director well-known in non-commercial theater circles, specializes in visual, theatrical theater. She has said she's not interested in staging the everyday reality you usually see in movies and television—and she's the reason Gattelli joined SpongeBob.

"I think her mind is incredible," he says, "and I was curious about how she was going to do this." With a Tony for Newsies and nominations for the Lincoln Center revivals of South Pacific and The King and I, Gattelli has built a career on dances for genuine characters—his most recent Broadway musical was the fact-based War Paint.

One meeting with Landau was all it took to persuade him to choreograph on the happy-go-lucky sponge he already knew from watching TV with his nieces and nephews, because her vision resembled nothing he'd ever worked on, and the variety of music would allow him "to flex every single choreographic muscle."

His tap chops got a particularly strenuous workout. The number contributed by They Might Be Giants, "I'm Not a Loser," is a tap extravaganza for a squid and a chorus line of 12 portraying 50 sea anemones. Playing Squidward Tentacles, SpongeBob's chronically cranky neighbor, is Gavin Lee, whose expert tapping gave Mary Poppins a showstopping number in 2006. Here, his costume gives him extra legs and arms to dance with, and, Gattelli says, "He's off the charts."


Sandy Cheeks teaches SpongeBob to "Chop To The Top"; Photo by Joan Marcus

A promotional clip before the show's tryout run last year in Chicago offered a glimpse of another Gattelli muscle—not to mention the bicycle-riding skills of the dancers. Asked about choreographing this bit, he says, "Oh, we ended up not using it—we found a better solution for that moment."

He explains that "I could do more with them physically, I could dance them more, by taking them off the bikes." The bicycles, and their elimination, illustrate Landau's process, Gattelli says. "It's so open and so collaborative—there's never a 'no.' You're encouraged to try anything. Even the wildest idea gets a hearing."

And many of the wild ideas stay. SpongeBob SquarePants, he says, "is a carnival. It's a rock concert. It's a vaudeville. You don't know what's gonna happen next. It's not your typical Broadway musical."

Currently in previews, SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical will officially open at the Palace Theatre on Broadway on Monday, December 4th. For more information on SpongeBob SquarePants, The Broadway Musical and to purchase tickets, visit SpongeBobBroadway.com.


Photo by Joan Marcus

Bikini Bottom is coming to Broadway in Nickelodeon's brand-new SpongeBob SquarePants musical!

SpongeBob SquarePants places the characters of the hit Nickelodeon cartoon series in an original story set in Bikini Bottom, where the stakes are higher than ever before, as SpongeBob and all of Bikini Bottom face the total annihilation of their undersea world! Chaos erupts. Lives hang in the balance. And just when all hope seems lost, a most unexpected hero rises up and takes center stage!

The show features a book by Kyle Jarrow and a score arranged by Tom Kitt, featuring original songs from a plethora of recording artists, including Cyndi Lauper, John Legend, Sara Bareilles, Panic! At the Disco, and the late David Bowie.

Reprising their roles from the musical’s 2016 world premiere in Chicago are Ethan Slater as SpongeBob, Gavin Lee as Squidward Q. Tentacles, Lilli Cooper as Sandy Cheeks, and Danny Skinner as Patrick Star. They will be joined by stage and TV favorite Wesley Taylor as the maniacal-yet-microscopic Sheldon Plankton and Brian Ray Norris in his Broadway debut as Krusty Krab owner Eugene Krabs.


Rounding out the cast are ensemble members Gaelen Gilliland, Juliane Godfrey, Kyle Matthew Hamilton, Curtis Holbrook, Stephanie Hsu, Jesse JP Johnson, L’ogan J’ones, Jai’len Josey, Kelvin Moon Loh, Lauralyn McClelland, Vasthy Mompoint, Oneika Phillips, Jon Rua, JC Schuster, Abby C. Smith, Robert Taylor Jr., Allan Washington, Brynn Williams, and Matt Wood.

Acclaimed Steppenwolf director Tina Landau and the groundbreaking designers behind Fun Home, Hedwig, and Spring Awakening have brilliantly reimagined Bikini Bottom for the Broadway stage, bringing the spirit of SpongeBob to life with humanity, heart, and pure theatricality. With an original score from some of the biggest names in pop and rock, SpongeBob SquarePants explodes with energy.

SpongeBob SquarePants begun Broadway previews Monday, November 6th at the Palace Theatre on New York City's prestigious Broadway, before officially opening on Monday, December 4th.

To purchase tickets the SpongeBob SquarePants Broadway musical, visit SpongeBobBroadway.com, Ticketmaster.com or call 877-250-2929.

Full information about the The SpongeBob Musical can be found on the productions official website, thespongebobmusical.com! #SpongeBobBway.

SpongeBob SquarePants - The New Musical Original Cast Recording is available to purchase today at https://spongebobmusical.lnk.to/SpongebobMusicalRecording.

Online / Social Media
Website: SpongeBobBroadway.com
Facebook: facebook.com/SpongeBobBway
Twitter: @SpongeBobBway
Instagram: #spongebobbway
YouTube: youtube.com/spongebobbroadway

More Nick: Are You Ready Kids? SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS Musical Begins Broadway Previews Monday; New Block Of Tickets Available!
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