SpongeBob Squarepants The Broadway Musical may well be the quintessential Broadway experience. It has the perfect combination of music, cast, direction, art direction and story to make it stand head and shoulders above any of the classics of the stage. The only musical close to this in terms of over all quality is The Book of Mormon, and unlike that show, SpongeBob Squarepants is family-friendly.

Taking the familiar characters from the Nickledeon cartoon, and placing them in a compelling story about the potential end of the world works surprisingly well on stage, largely due to the efforts of the cast and the creative team.

The show is a spectacle in every sense of the word. The set design is brilliant, both figuratively and literally, and the costume design manages to perfectly capture the characters of the cartoon series without resorting to using mascot uniforms.

Much of the credit for that also goes to the cast, who manage to evoke the outlandish cartoon characters by using physical comedy, mime and puppeteering skills, exaggerated dance and mastery of the character voices. Ethan Slater, as SpongeBob, looks like a muscled-up Danny Elfman, but with the voice, stance and costume perfectly embodies the beloved cartoon character.

The entire cast is excellent, but special notice has to go to Gavin Lee (left), who plays Squidward. With a costume that includes gimmicked pants that include two extra legs, Lee brings Squidward to life in a way that would have been hard to imagine. He has the body language, voice and attitude down perfectly, and his big production number, “I’m Not A Loser” (written by They Might Be Giants), is one of the many highlights of this show.

The casting of this show is a perfect example of how to achieve diversity without calliing attention to it. Other shows would stop every five seconds to pat themselves on the back for having black, Asian, gay, Latino, and folks with different body types as cast members on stage, but in SpongeBob Squarepants they simply are, without it being a big deal. Each actor does their job, or jobs, and they all excel.

The music is incredible and hangs together very well, despite being written, for the most part, by rock musicians with no prior stage experience. In addition to They Might Be Giants, composers include David Bowie and Brian Eno, Jonathan Coulton, Cyndi Lauper, Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith, Yolanda Adams, Sara Bareilles, John Legend and members of Lady Antebellum, The Flaming Lips, Panic at the Disco, The Plain White Ts and Paic At The Disco.

The orchestra does a remarkable job throughout, and the onstage sound effects/Foley/percusstionist Mike Dobson adds a whole new level to the use of sound in a stage musical.

Everything about this show is perfect. I can’t understand how this show was passed over for the Tony Award for best musical in favor of the dismal and mundane The Band’s Visit.  I can only assume that it was misplaced resentment over all the stage musicals based on Disney cartoons. However, SpongeBob Squarepants The Musical is so much more than the Disney musicals are. It delivers everything that a Broadway musical should, and does it with originality, wit and style. Kudos to director/co-conceiver Tina Landau for creating the definitive Broadway musical.

SpongeBob Squarepants The Broadway Musical ends its run at the Palace Theater on September 16, but will shortly be going out on a national tour. I recommend you see it, if you get the chance. This is a show that you will never forget.

This show was half of the anniversary trip to New York taken last week by your PopCulteer and his wife. I will tell you about the rest of the trip later this week.

You can hear Mel Larch’s Curtain Call present the cast album of SpongeBob Squarepants on The AIR today at 3 PM, Thursday at 8 AM and 8 PM and Saturday at 6 PM. Listen at The AIR website or on this embedded radio player…

Here’s one look at how amazing just part of the set was. This is just one side of the stage, in a photo taken during intermission. It does not do justice to how impressive the set for this show is.