Who lives in a pineapple under the sea? SpongeBob SquarePants. Except right now, he’s away from Bikini Bottom on tour with “The SpongeBob Musical,” the Tony-nominated adaptation of Nickelodeon’s beloved animated series. After a Broadway run, the zany production will play the Boch Center Wang Theatre from Oct. 15 to Oct. 27 as part of its North American tour.
Most people know SpongeBob from his animated misadventures, packaged into two 11-minute segments per episode. Often, the burger-flipping sponge finds himself in simple situations that escalate to the absurd. For instance: An episode from 2002 finds SpongeBob and his best friend, starfish Patrick Star, going door-to-door selling candy bars. SpongeBob tries to pick a tantalizing loose thread off the shirt of his snobby co-worker and neighbor, Squidward. Things unravel from there.
Instead of ramping things up one step at a time, “The SpongeBob Musical” begins with an explosive revelation. Residents of Bikini Bottom learn that a nearby volcano, Mount Humongous, is set to destroy the entire town in 24 hours. As Squidward (Christopher Cody Cooley), Patrick (Beau Bradshaw), Sandy the squirrel (Daria Pilar Redus), money-grubbing Mr. Krabs (Zach Kononov), and his rival Plankton (Tristan McIntyre) reckon with impending doom, it’s up to one optimistic sponge to save the ecosystem he calls home.
Translating 11-minute-long, action-packed episodes into more than two hours of musical theater proved challenging, director Tina Landau said in a phone interview. The New York City theater artist started developing the show in 2007 and has been working with it ever since.
“The show was not conceived as a musical,” Landau said. “It’s more like a performance art event, and a party, and a carnival, and a rock concert.” A star-studded lineup of musicians contributed to the show’s soundtrack, which includes songs by David Bowie and Brian Eno, Panic! at the Disco, They Might Be Giants, Sara Bareilles, and John Legend, to name a few.
Characters wear clothing that suggests their animated counterparts’ but doesn’t try to replicate it. Squidward wears pants with extra-green legs. SpongeBob wears his iconic suspenders. “But the intention was never to put him in a large, square, foam kind of theme-park costume,” Landau said.
In the animated series, SpongeBob plays his nose like a flute and contorts his malleable body into improbable shapes. In the musical, SpongeBob’s human actor jumps around excitedly and pulls his pet snail Gary behind him on wheels. “We have not shied away from the fact that SpongeBob stretches and contorts,” Landau said. “We have just found really theatrical ways to express that.”
SpongeBob’s first episode ran in 1999, inspiring legions of millennial superfans who grew up watching the show. SpongeBob memes continue to circulate on social media. Fans even petitioned to get the iconic SpongeBob rock song “Sweet Victory” (from the 2001 episode “Band Geeks”) performed at the 2019 Super Bowl. They wanted to honor show creator Stephen Hillenburg, who died last fall.
This production taps into that deep vein of SpongeBob fandom. “We have found that our biggest group of fans are definitely in their 20s and 30s,” Landau said.
Like so many of his peers, Lorenzo Pugliese grew up watching SpongeBob’s antics. The actor, who plays SpongeBob in the touring production, graduated from The University of the Arts in Philadelphia this spring.
“Actually, I don’t even know if I told Tina this,” Pugliese said over the phone, laughing. “But when I was a kid, in the morning, I would wake up, open up the windows and yell, ‘Good morning world, and all who inhabit it!’ ” It’s a quote from a classic SpongeBob scene. And now, Pugliese gets to yell it at the top of every performance.
Bonus: Boston theatergoers can celebrate SpongeBob with an extra treat. J.P. Licks, the ice cream chain founded in Jamaica Plain, will offer a sea salted pineapple ice cream flavor for a limited time as a joint promotional effort. Sounds like it would pair nicely with a Krabby Patty.
The SpongeBob Musical
At Boch Center Wang Theatre, Oct. 15-27. Tickets from $25, www.bochcenter.org.