VIEWPOINTS – Good musicals come in all sizes: The winning SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS and HUNDRED DAYS open

Last night, New Yorkers unwrapped a pair of early theatrical Christmas presents – one an unabashedly lavish Broadway spectacle, the other an affecting small-scale autobiographical musical. The good news is that they’re both equally winning creations despite their dizzying disparity in style and size (and presumably budget).

Lilli Cooper and Ethan Slater in "Spongebob Squarepants" at the Palace Theatre.

Lilli Cooper and Ethan Slater in “Spongebob Squarepants” at the Palace Theatre.

On Broadway last night, the allegedly $20 million Spongebob Squarepants (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED) opened with a bang at the Palace Theatre. The splashy musical, based on the hyperactive, insistently upbeat Nickelodeon cartoon series of the same name, comes across as a glorified episode – and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Having been somewhat exposed to the cartoon series, I was worried that Tina Landau’s stage adaptation would turn out to be an oppressive, lumbering behemoth. Instead, it’s a delightfully giddy experience, both sweet and energizing, both in design (the glitzy, acid trip of a scenic design is by David Zinn) and performance. What’s astonishing about the tuneful show, which features songs by pop artists ranging from Cyndi Lauper to The Flaming Lips, is the consistent high it manages to sustain throughout its two-and-a-half hour running time. The show is led by an endlessly inventive, exuberant, and altogether smashing performance by the charismatic Ethan Slater (in his Broadway debut!) in the title role. But attention must be paid to the supporting cast, as well, particularly the excellent Lilli Cooper and Gavin Lee, who are given ample opportunities to shine, which they take, gleefully.

Abigail and Shaun Bengson in "Hundred Days" in New York Theatre Workshop.

Abigail and Shaun Bengson in “Hundred Days” at New York Theatre Workshop.

Just as epic in scale on its own intimate terms is Shaun and Abigail Bengson’s profound little autobiographical musical Hundred Days (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED), which gently opened last night Off-Broadway at New York Theatre Workshop. The unconventional and deceptively simple concert-cum-musical, reminiscent in many ways – for those of you who saw it – of Benjamin Scheuer’s exquisite solo musical The Lion, is a show about romantic love, pure and simple. Shaun and Abigail, both warm, lovely human beings, are here given the extraordinary chance to conjure up their budding relationship (and beyond!), complete with its ecstatic highs and frightful lows, on a nightly basis. This love you see in front of you, which is manifested by the Bengsons’ glorious cycle of songs, is real, and it’s achingly beautiful to behold. I had seen the musical as part of the Public’s Under the Radar Festival a few seasons ago, and remember being mildly impressed by its quaintness. The current production vastly improves upon that previous run, especially in the theatricality department, thanks in large part to Anne Kaufman’s subtle but impactful directorial touches. The Bengsons’ once timid performances have also grown more confident and compelling; they now have no trouble holding the stage with their quirky, and yes, passionate, presence. This is a show that makes you believe in the necessity and vitality of love, and it’s the perfect antidote for the jaded New Yorker during this (sometimes relentless) holiday season.

Good things (including musicals) really do come in all sizes.


Broadway, Musical
Palace Theatre
2 hours, 30 minutes (with one intermission)
Open run

Off-Broadway, Musical
New York Theatre Workshop
1 hour, 30 minutes (without an intermission)
Through December 31

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