SpongeBob SquarePants is ditching the Pacific Ocean for Chicago in a new musical theater adaptation of the Nickeloden cartoon, premiering next month. Starting June 7, fans of the 17-year-old series will finally be introduced to the character's singing and dancing, real-life incarnation: actor Ethan Slater, whose director claims embodies "the essence of SpongeBob" in The SpongeBob Musical.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, the budding thespian described how he landed the role of the yellow sponge, which he originated in workshops five years ago.
"I was sitting in my friend's dorm room on a beanbag chair holding a plush doll of SpongeBob and looking at a poster of SpongeBob, when I opened an e-mail and attached was a picture of SpongeBob, and that was when I realized what I would be auditioning for," he said.
Slater's version of SpongeBob will be heavy on physical comedy, he said, as well as his unyielding optimism. He'll also be joined on stage by friends like Sandy, Patrick and Squidward, all of whom are expected to follow the show from its Chicago run to Broadway. The New York premiere has not been dated; the pre-Broadway engagement ends in July.
One thing the live-action version of SpongeBob will be lighter on is the character's familiar voice, Slater said.
"The voice is secondary to figuring out the human core and the emotional and relatable center of SpongeBob," he explained. "I mean, yes, I'm a sponge, but really I'm a human."
Whether that relates to the overall story of The SpongeBob Musical is anyone's guess. Details are scant ahead of next month's theatrical debut, although the cartoon's recurring villain Plankton will appear. A YouTube channel hosts various behind-the-scenes videos from the production, described as the story of Bikini Bottom in a time of crisis.
You can take a look at the musical — whose soundtrack includes names like They Might Be Giants, The Flaming Lips, Jonathan Coulton and David Bowie — in rehearsals below.