by Lorie Lewis Ham
This Friday The SpongeBob Musical opens at the Selma Arts Center after having been postponed earlier due to the pandemic. We took a moment to chat about the show with the show’s director Dominic Grijalva, and the actor playing SpongeBob, Jonathan Padilla.
KRL: What is this show about?
Dominic: The SpongeBob Musical finds our favorite yellow sea sponge and the rest of the legendary cast of characters on the brink of armageddon after Sandy the Squirrel discovers that an ancient volcano dangerously close to their home of Bikini Bottom will erupt in a matter of hours. With certain doom on the horizon and the citizens of this iconic undersea city now put to the ultimate test, it is up to SpongeBob, Patrick, and Sandy to figure out how to stop the volcano from exploding before everything they know and love is gone.
KRL: Why was this particular show chosen?
Dominic: SpongeBob is an absolutely wild ride of a show filled to the brim with great songs, hilarious scenes, and many, many moments of wackiness, but it also speaks so loudly in its relevancy to our world today. Between themes of friendship, prejudice, mortality, and our own potential as members of a community, there is a wonderful balance between the silly and the endearing that blends together beautifully to make for an unforgettable night’s entertainment.
KRL: I have never seen this musical though I have seen the TV show, how do you take these characters and bring them to the stage?
Dominic: I was just talking about this last night with some of the cast members! When you’re watching a cartoon, the stories are simple because they have to wrap up in 11 minutes. Cartoons famously almost never have season arcs or any real character development because it’s gotta be able to be replayed in syndication over and over. It makes it easier as a viewer to pop into any episode and enjoy it for what you’ve always known it to be. That wouldn’t work in a play. Musical audiences want to connect to characters, want to join them on their journeys, and ultimately want to watch them transform by the end of the show. The SpongeBob Musical takes all of these characters and gives them dimension, stakes, and arcs that bloom beautifully through the show. You’ve truly never seen them like this before.
KRL: What were some of the special challenges of directing this show?
Dominic: How much time do you have? Between the enormous technical aspects, the ongoing pandemic, and cast/creative members leaving the project over our hiatus, our work has been cut out for us. Every scene in the show builds upon the one prior, so the bells and whistles have to as well. We were days away from our original opening night when Omicron shut us down, which was heartbreaking. Not everyone was able to return for various reasons. From a personal standpoint, this has been the most challenging show I have ever directed. But I’ve always loved a challenge.
KRL: What are the costumes like?
Dominic: Heather Sisk, our brilliant costume designer, has created some incredible pieces for everyone to see. They are very much based in a select period of time but also feature aspects of fantasy. There’s a lovely blend between that fantasy and our own world. What I’ve always loved about the character design in the cartoon is it’s 1960s beachwear flair. You’re sure to see shades of that in our show plus some fun and unique things as well.
KRL: What has been the most fun about directing this show?
Dominic: One of the most fun aspects of directing the show is revisiting a cartoon that I was obsessed with as a young boy. SpongeBob SquarePants was undoubtedly my favorite thing to watch on a Saturday morning with my family. I also just love the musical! I was lucky enough to see it on Broadway a few years ago and I fell in love with it the way that it unabashedly celebrates optimism, plus its unique storytelling and catchy songs had me hooked by curtain. It truly is a big party and though the planning process has been challenging I know that when our guests arrive and the curtain rises on Friday we are all going to have a blast!
KRL: Who is in the show? Any familiar faces?
Dominic: You are sure to see some familiar faces in this cast, among them Camille Gaston, Mady Broach, and Michael Seitz. But what I really want to talk about is all the new faces (at least new to me) who have come through and made such an impression with their work. Audiences are absolutely going to fall in love with Jonathan Padilla as SpongeBob. He brings such warmth and joy to this role that there is simply no way you can’t smile when he walks on stage. There’s an entire cast of stars up there who are working so hard and are so funny and talented. After watching this production, everyone will remember at least one moment from all of them.
KRL: Is this a family friendly show?
Dominic: Absolutely 100% yes! Though the cartoon was “for kids”, it’s always been for people of all ages. The musical is no different. There’s something for everyone whether it’s the comedy, the songs written by some of music’s biggest stars, or everything in between. No matter your age, you are going to love this show.
KRL: Anything else that you would like to share?
Dominic: We are having an opening night preshow party! Anyone with a ticket can buy beer or wine in the lobby, and there will be cake! Dress up, and get ready for a fun night of this highly-anticipated premiere six months in the making!
For the actor playing SpongeBob, Jonathan Padilla:
KRL: How long have you been doing theatre?
Jonathan: I started doing theatre in the 4th grade, so about 10 now.
KRL: Where are you from?
Jonathan: I was born and raised in Fresno.
KRL: Why did you want to play this role?
Jonathan: I took on this role because I wanted to prove to myself that I can step up and do something extraordinary. I have done a lot of shows where I have just been put in the back and just smiled and did the same thing as everyone else. This is a rare show where every person on stage actually has a character and are vital to telling the truth to the story. Even if I wasn’t playing SpongeBob, this show would be so rewarding to be a part of because everyone is important to the storyline.
KRL: Were you a fan of the TV show?
Jonathan: Yes, I am a fan except I didn’t actually start to watch the show until I was about 11 or 12. My family didn’t get cable until about 2010 and then they told us we couldn’t watch SpongeBob because my parents didn’t want to get annoyed with his voice. After about a year we just started to watch it and they never said anything about it.
KRL: What have you had to do to prepare for the role?
Jonathan: Gosh, there is so much I had to do to prepare for the character. I had to learn the laugh and the voice, learning how to sing with the voice. It’s been 6 months in the making bringing this character to life and I’m very excited for people to see it.
KRL: What has been the hardest?
Jonathan: The hardest for me was finding the physicality of the character. Finding a good balance between cartoon and real life has been a challenge but it’s been so rewarding. Tina Landau, who directed and conceived the show for the stage, wrote a page in the script about how to approach the production and she ended it with “Find and scatter Joy”, which is just the best thing to work with as an actor.
KRL: What has been the most fun?
Jonathan: The thing that was the most fun for me is committing to the truth of the character. SpongeBob is an outrageous cartoon but if you think about it he’s just a normal person doing his normal thing. He goes to work, he goes to boating school, he hangs out with friends. Also, getting to work with Dom, our director, our acting coach Kelsey, and our amazing cast and crew throughout this experience has been a blast. I have never met harder-working people than the people I share the stage with. We would run a scene and literally just start laughing about how ridiculous the show is. I cannot wait for people to finally get to see it.
Performances of The SpongeBob Musical are at the Selma Arts Center, 1935 High Street, Selma, CA.
Performance dates and times:
Friday, June 17 at 7:30 PM
Saturday, June 18 at 2 PM & 7:30 PM
Sunday, June 19 at 2 PM
Thursday, June 23 at 7:30 PM
Friday, June 24 at 7:30 PM
Saturday, June 25 at 2 PM & 7:30 PM
Sunday, June 26 at 2 PM
Thursday, June 30 at 7:30 PM
Friday, July 1 at 7:30 PM
Saturday, July 2 at 2 PM* & 7:30 PM
*Vizual Voices ASL interpretation offered during this performance for Deaf and Hard of Hearing guests. Saturday, July 2 at 2 PM & 7:30 PM.
$19 Seniors, Student, Military
$15 Children under 13
Tickets are available by calling 559.891.2238, by visiting selmaartscenter.com/tickets or at the Selma Arts Center box office. Box office hours are Tuesday-Wednesday 1 PM-5 PM. A processing fee will apply when purchasing online and at the Box Office.
Check out more theatre reviews & other local entertainment articles in our Arts & Entertainment section. And if you love theatre don’t miss out on Mysteryrat’s Maze Podcast where you can hear local actors bring to life mystery short stories and first chapters!