Saturday, April 21, 2018

He Knows Bikini Bottom. Now He Gets to Swim There | SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical

Originally published: Wednesday, November 22, 2017.

He Knows Bikini Bottom. Now He Gets to Swim There.


Ethan Slater, pictured here in his Brooklyn neighborhood, said physical comedians had influenced his performance as the title character in “SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical.” Credit Amy Lombard for The New York Times

When Ethan Slater wasn’t cast in Arabian Nights his freshman year at Georgetown Day School in Washington, he decided to try something he’d never done — wrestling. Not only did he take quickly to the sport, ending up on the varsity team, but it also helped prepare him for the high-energy stage role that’s come to define his last two years, and could keep him employed for several more: the ever cheerful SpongeBob SquarePants.

“The sort of stereotypical wrestling practice is that you’re doing burpees, and the coach is yelling at you to keep going, and you feel like you’re going to collapse, but you somehow make it through to the end,” Mr. Slater, 25, told The New York Times whilst in his dressing room at the Palace Theater, where he is making his Broadway debut as the star of SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical.

“I didn’t think I was going to be able to sing this song eight shows a week, or learn these weird lines, or to climb an 18-foot ladder wall upside-down while singing,’’ he explained. “Those things sound impossible, but if you work on it, you can make it happen.”

Surrounded by SpongeBob memorabilia and his costumes for the show, Mr. Slater radiated optimism, very much like SpongeBob himself, which may be why he immediately caught the eye of Tina Landau, the show’s director, and top executives at Nickelodeon. His red hair, slightly nasal voice and the small gap between his two front teeth surely didn’t hurt, either.

But perhaps he was fated for the role from the start.

In 2012, Mr. Slater was a sophomore at Vassar College, and had been acting in plays and musicals since childhood. He had just started dating the woman who would become his fiancée. He insists that he was holding a SpongeBob plush doll and staring right at a SpongeBob poster in his friend’s dorm room when his phone rang.

A casting director asked Mr. Slater if he would like to try out for what was then called The Untitled Tina Landau Project. Mr. Slater had caught his eye auditioning for another gig: an apprenticeship with the composer Stew, who was writing music for a production of Romeo and Juliet that the casting director was helping to put together.

When Mr. Slater looked at the pages of the script — the characters were named Bubble Bert and Bumbling Bub — he realized that the lines were from the early SpongeBob SquarePants episode "Dying for Pie", in which the title character eats a pie that Squidward, his grumpy octopus neighbor, thinks is a bomb.


Mr. Slater playing SpongeBob at the Palace Theater, where the show is now in previews. Credit Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

“By the end of that very first workshop, I couldn’t conceive of doing the show without him,” Ms. Landau said in an interview. “It was so clear that he possesses some essential qualities that SpongeBob possesses.”

[How Nickelodeon set its sights on Broadway]

Mr. Slater’s SpongeBob isn’t encased in some kind of oversize sponge costume (an aesthetic choice by Ms. Landau), so he has to work extra hard to capture the character’s persona onstage. He nails SpongeBob’s cackle and crouched walk, not to mention his relentless, wide-eyed cheer.

“He sounds more like him than he did at the beginning,” said Cyma Zarghami, the president of Nickelodeon. “It’s a little freaky now.”

He is not much different offstage, though he speaks more softly and leaves the cackle for paying audiences. Physically, he is muscular but not tall — ideally built to thoroughly inhabit a sponge whose physical antics are an essential part of its charm.

He began ticking off names: “Buster Keaton. Charlie Chaplin. Laurel and Hardy. Abbott and Costello. All of those comedians really informed the cartoon and they’ve really informed the Broadway musical.”

As the show went through a lengthy development process, Mr. Slater took on other roles, in a 2015 web series called Redheads Anonymous and in the 2016 Off Broadway musical comedy Baghdaddy.

But everything changed when the $20 million project finally had its premiere, in Chicago, and then announced its move to Broadway, where it is now in previews.

Mr. Slater said he never consulted with Tom Kenny, the voice of the cartoon SpongeBob, as he developed his character. They did meet when Mr. Kenny saw the show in Chicago. Great SpongeBobs think alike, as they both happened to show up to a party wearing very similar outfits.

After offering praise, Mr. Kenny had one piece of advice for his theatrical counterpart.

“‘Never wear yellow,’” Mr. Slater said with a laugh.

Click here to watch a spongeriffic video of Ethan Slater singing "Just A Simple Sponge" from SpongeBob SquarePants, The Broadway Musical!

Also, from Newsweek:

ETHAN SLATER TALKS ABOUT PLAYING SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS ON BROADWAY

Since SpongeBob SquarePants premiered on the Nickelodeon channel in 1999, the yellow sponge has managed to become a beloved household name. Nearly 20 years later, the famed cartoon was resurrected when SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical debuted in December 2017.

The show's equally lovable star, Ethan Slater, was thrilled to land the role. “It is an honor that I didn’t know I wanted. Playing SpongeBob...it’s amazing,” Slater, 25, told Newsweek. “I would say that SpongeBob at his core is this optimistic, loving, best friend. Getting to play him every day has sort of rubbed off on me and improved my life.”

The musical, directed by Tina Landau, tells the story of Slater’s SpongeBob banding with his underwater friends to save their world from destruction. It features original music from John Legend, Lady Antebellum and Sara Bareilles, among several other big names.



As a child, Slater was a casual watcher of the animated series that inspired his Broadway role, watching it at friends’ houses after school, since he didn’t have cable. In high school, the Washington, D.C., native played an active role in the school’s theater department and also was on the wrestling team, which he said “helped in a lot of ways” when playing SpongeBob: It takes a lot of flexibility to pull off the character who lives in a pineapple under the sea.

Slater, a Vassar College alum, was recruited to play SpongeBob due to his “shape” after he auditioned for a role in Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet. Slater didn't mention if shape was a literal term, but the musical was a pretty big secret for years.

“This was six years ago. I did workshops and development stuff for years. I think it finally became public only two and a half [to] three years ago,” Slater explained. “It was a good two or three years of sworn secrecy in which nobody I was close to knew I was working on it. I didn’t tell anyone.”

On the Nickelodeon show, SpongeBob is voiced by actor Tom Kenny. Slater tells Newsweek that he didn’t audition with SpongeBob’s signature voice, which he chalked up to nerves. In recognizing that the voice is a “big part” of what makes SpongeBob himself, he did his homework to get it just right.

“It really took a number of years of working it into my body instead of having to push it into this nasally place,” Slater said. “I think it’s taken a while for it to be something that feels comfortable and second nature. The most important things to Tina about the show—and everyone—is that it comes from a very truthful, emotional place.”

Slater’s hard word is paying off with fans and critics alike, and his performance has generated early Tony buzz. “The human element of this story makes it relatable,” Slater said. “We’re not playing to the lowest common denominator. This is a story worth telling, and I’m really proud with the way it’s being told.”


Ethan Slater during opening night of "SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical" in New York City on December 4, 2017. Jenny Anderson/Getty Images for Nickelodeon

--Ends--

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 listen to and 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; New Block Of Tickets Available!
Follow NickALive! on Twitter, Tumblr, Google+, via RSS, on Instagram, and/or Facebook for the latest Nickelodeon and SpongeBob SquarePants - The New Musical News and Highlights!

No comments: