‘The SpongeBob Musical: Youth Edition’ Makes a Splash at HPMS

Audiences dove into the world of The SpongeBob Musical: Youth Edition in April with Highland Park Middle School and McCulloch Intermediate School drama students.

In the Tony-award winning musical, trouble brewed in SpongeBob’s neon and bubble-filled hometown when residents discovered that a volcano would soon erupt and destroy Bikini Bottom. Sea creatures were faced with the dilemma of whether to try to make a getaway in an escape pod or work together with everyone (even land mammals) to save their undersea world.

The approximately 75 students in SpongeBob’s cast and 25 in its crew poured more than 200 hours into the production, said Genevieve Croft, who co-directed the musical with Shannon Howerton.  

Croft tried to ensure there was a place for everyone in the musical who wanted to be involved, just as there should be room for all animals in Bikini Bottom.

“Everybody’s welcome, and that’s how the theater program should be too,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re in band or football or a theater kid only. Come on, there’s always a place for you. I don’t care if it’s painting sets, or dancing or singing.”

Croft created Bikini Bottom’s world of bright colors primarily with materials from The Welman Project, a creative reuse store that donates supplies to teachers. 

Pink, blue and purple pool noodles were sliced and folded to represent coral. Jellyfish were umbrellas held by students and draped with sheer fabrics. SpongeBob’s arm was recreated as a slinky and glove. Students in the production added to the explosion of color with neon costumes, shoes and hats. There was plenty of action as actors cartwheeled, skated, or ran across the stage.

Croft, who is 2023-24 HPISD Fine Arts Teacher of the Year and directed a more traditional production of Annie Jr. in the fall, said Highland Park’s first production of SpongeBob was “something super lighthearted and fun.”

While rehearsing, student cast and crew members were treated to a zoom interview with Highland Park High School alum Danny Skinner ’07, who originated the role of SpongeBob’s Patrick Star in the adult version on Broadway. Middle school actors said they had fun making the musical, despite the time commitment involved.

“Ms. Croft makes it ten times better,” said fifth-grader Griffin Lazebnik, who played various sea creatures. “At first when I did Annie, that’s when I started acting. The reason why I did it was for her, and that’s when I found out I liked acting.”

“It can be a lot of work, and you can be tired,” said fifth-grader Kate Waldron, who donned gold, pink, and green neon to play a sardine. “But in the end, it’s all worth it because you put together this amazing show and spent time with your friends.”

The show and its message of friendship and inclusion were appropriate for all audiences. Missing from the production was the raunchy humor associated with the SpongeBob SquarePants animated series on Nickelodeon.

“It’s just such a good message,” Croft said. “Don’t count your days, but make your days count, and let’s all be friends, no matter where we come from.”

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