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Under the bright lights

A Broadway mashup experience, from SpongeBob to Babette

Under the bright lights

Cast of ‘SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical.’ (Image from YouTube)

A New York moment: 

In recent days I’ve had two wildly divergent theater experiences: one, SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical, and two, Babette’s Feast, which just opened off-Broadway. It seems wrong to even put those productions in the same sentence, but they’re playing in the same neighborhood.

SpongeBob—all goofy design, silly songs, and inside jokes from the Nickelodeon television hit on which it is based—was an audience of mostly kids, and they were roaring. It was especially raucous in the peanut gallery where I was sitting. SpongeBob has a pet snail that meows like a cat, and whenever the snail would appear on stage, the kids around me would meow loudly back to it. “Why does the snail meow?” asked one dad, oblivious to the topsy-turvy strangeness that makes kids love SpongeBob. 

When Patrick Star, SpongeBob’s best friend, asks at one point, “Is mayonnaise an instrument?”—a famous line from the TV show—the room erupted. The musical is about an inch deep, but a mile wide in terms of the fun kids were having.

Babette’s Feast, playing in a church theater several blocks from SpongeBob, lies on the deeper end of the pool. Funnily enough, I heard a couple on the front row discussing SpongeBob before the austere play began.

Babette drew a calmer audience of adults, and the stage production was simple. No beach balls or confetti cannons here. No food, even. The play, a story of an outsider bringing a radical act of grace to an ascetic Christian sect, is based primarily on the short story rather than the famous film.

But Babette has its goofy moments too. At one point when Babette was preparing the titular dinner for her hosts, the “Greek chorus” that narrates the story surrounded her and made sound effects for each dish she pantomimed making. Bleeeep, blooop, smoosh smoosh smoosh. Though this wasn’t a show to hold the attention of children, they probably would have laughed at that part. It was almost as funny as a snail that meows. (My fuller review of Babette’s Feast is coming.)

Worth your time:  

A major study of 20 million children shows stark income and class disparity for black boys, even from wealthy families and controlling for family structure. A lot of fascinating and frustrating details are in here, as well as some beautiful data animation.

This week I learned: 

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo gave departing Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards the Governor’s Medal of Public Service, an award that, as far as I can find, he has given out only once before. Cuomo is also working on lifting state abortion restrictions via his budget, since those changes previously failed as a standalone bill.

Culture I am consuming: 

The book Conversations with Wilder by Cameron Crowe, continuing my Billy Wilder project. Crowe, a famous director in his own right, turns out to be a great interviewer in this series of conversations with Wilder toward the end of Wilder’s life. The book is sadly out of print, but it’s packed with wonderful anecdotes and storytelling secrets from the great writer/director.

Postscript: Email me with tips, story ideas, and feedback at ebelz@wng.org