Posted in Tay on Theatre

The Broadway Show of My Heart, “Spongebob Squarepants”

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I’m not even going to attempt to write a clever opening or be professional in this post. fucking love this musical with every fiber of my being, and I hope it wins so, so, so many Tony awards tomorrow.

Here’s the deal. I’ve seen this musical three times and it’s not enough. I have four t-shirts from the show (soon to be five because I can’t deal with not having them all—I know I have a problem and I can’t stop, but that’s okay). I listen to the full album a few times every week.

I was flabbergasted once the show was over.

I went in with super low expectations. I thought I would have fun, have a few laughs and then go home. Instead, I was changed forever by this little gem of a musical and I will fight anyone who says it isn’t good, okay?

I saw it for a second time on February 3. And then a Third time on June 1. If I could, I would see this musical every week (that would be excessive, but not necessarily unheard of for me). In order to organize my thoughts, because I could go on forever about this show and just be a mess, here are my favorite things about Spongebob Squarepants: The Broadway Musical, tied into why it means so much to me and why I think it deserves all the things.

This musical is probably one of the happiest and hopeful shows I have ever seen on a Broadway stage. The show stars all of the original Spongebob characters from the title character to Patrick Star to Sandy Cheeks to Mr. Krabs and more. It features a storyline where a volcano is threatening to destroy Bikini Bottom I can see why you wouldn’t like the show if you weren’t a fan of the original TV show. However, I vividly remember the first episodes and I loved it as a kid, so I have that connection to it.

Affectively, this show is remarkable and unlike anything else I’ve seen on Broadway. By affect (because I’m an affect theorist in my academic life) I mean the attachments and orientation of physical sensation, feeling and emotion in relation to people, places and things. So many shows that I see on Broadway capitalize on loss or grief in order to power the show. Spongebob, though, ran expressly on hope and optimism. “(Just a) Simple Sponge” is also probably in my top three of all Broadway show tunes I’ve listened to. I love the hopeful message of that song so much.

This infectious hope and optimism, which permeates everything from the set to the costumes to the music to the choreography, is what made me fall so madly in love with this show. It’s two-and-a-half hours of pure optimistic fun where the underdog good guy wins. It’s two-and-a-half hours of color and brightness and fun that I’ve never really encountered in theatre before, not like this.

This musical breaks boundaries. Men and woman dance together in a pink-sequined chorus line. Spongebob is anything but the stereotypically masculine hero. The show smartly pokes fun at religious zeal, corporate greed, xenophobia and government inefficiency. It is the silly, fantastical musical we didn’t know we needed in 2018 during the Trump presidency.

Besides that, I also love that romance isn’t a part of the plot. Not in the way that it’s not part of the plot in Frozen. It’s just absent from the show. Instead, Spongebob and Patrick have the most intensely pure and platonic friendship. Seeing male characters bond and love each other on stage without romance or sex is so refreshing and relatable and needed. The show also plays with gender roles. Spongebob, played by Ethan Slater, is a tiny guy with a huge heart and without any distinct talents. He’s just a dude that loves his town, friends and job. That’s why it’s so inspiring to see him ultimately save the day.

Ethan Slater is also my favorite actor on Broadway right now. The range of voices, noises, hand gestures and athletics that he needs to perform to bring Spongebob to life is incredible. This show could have very easily become cringy and corny, but performances by actors like Ethan saved the show and gave it an authentic sense of fun and its overall wow-factor.

The rest of the cast is equally fun to watch. It’s a joy to hear Jai’Len Christine Li Josey, who plays Pearl Krabs, belt out her notes so incredibly, and she’s just a teenager. It was fun to finally get to see Lilli Cooper on stage. Danny Skinner is the perfect Patrick. Everyone in the cast so fully embodies and embraces their character, bringing some of my favorite childhood characters to life.

The other aspect of the show that brings it to life is the gorgeous set and the immersive experience of the show. I remember the first time the doors opened and I saw the stage, lit gorgeously in blue. Seeing this show has always felt like escaping to a happier place, if only for a few hours. When I’m in a bad place or having a shitty day, the Spongebob Squarepants Original Broadway Cast soundtrack is the first thing I turn to now. Listening to the music and reflecting on my memories of the show brings me so much happiness.

Whatever happens tomorrow night, this show will always have a special place in my heart.

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Posted in Tay on Theatre

Self-Love and the (Human) Heart of “Once on this Island”

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Content Warnings: Discussion of mental illness including depression and implied suicidal ideation

Full warning: this post is gonna get hella deep.

Something that I love about theatre is that it feels so intensely intimate. There’s something about sharing the room with people who are all experiencing what you are and also sharing the air with the people on the stage that makes seeing a show so, so special. There’s a kind of energy that gets charged in the room. At least once during every show that I really love, I get totally lost in the show and it feels real, like it’s really happening, and in a way, it is.

Theatre is also one of the places I turn to in order to work out my emotions. There’s something comforting about the way stories are told on stage. I trust it. When I see the right show at the right time, it ends up being transformative. I started going to see Broadway shows regularly when I was fifteen and especially in the past five years. I’m pretty sure that if you cut open my heart, the show tunes that I love most would flow out like a Pandora’s box, with just as much hope at the bottom.

Theatre resonates with my heart, whether I’m sad, angry or happy. It’s always there for me. I’m always able to find the perfect song that describes how I’m feeling. I also pull a lot of strength from theatre. If I have my earphones in, I’m more than likely listening to a show.

This past week, I went to see Once on this Island with one of my best friends. I had seen it shortly after it opened in January with another one of my best friends, but didn’t know much about the show before I saw it. I was so impressed and amazed with the set and the cast and the music, though, and the power of the story, that I promised myself I would go back and see it again.

A beautiful, smart musical about love, family and Caribbean racial politics (specifically in the French Antilles), Once on this Island tells the story of Ti Moune, a girl who is orphaned after a terrible storm, saved by the gods and raised by a peasant family. The gods, after hearing Ti Moune desire for some kind of purpose, arrange for her to fall in love with Daniel Beauxhomme, one of the lighter skinned grands hommes that lives on a different part of the island. Chaos ensues, as it does in any great love story, and the musical leaves off on a note that shows the worlds of the island being somewhat reunited.

The entire musical is framed as being a tale told to a small girl frightened during a bad storm and is about the power of love and stories. It’s about learning your history. It’s about using the power of storytelling to overcome adversity. It’s about the all-consuming power of love. It’s wonderful, and if you live near New York City you should definitely try to see it at Circle in the Square right now (plus the cast is just phenomenal). It’s done in the round and Circle in the Square is just such a special venue, especially for a story like this.

My post won’t touch upon the racial and class politics or the French Caribbean culture represented in the musical, though. It’s not my lane to talk about those elements of the show anyway in a post, although I appreciate the way that the culture is celebrated in the show and how deeply attuned to history.

Instead, I’m going to talk about how I connected personally to Ti Moune’s intense devotion and love in the play, and how it made me reflect on issues I’ve been thinking about lately in my own life. This show has taught me about the value and importance of self-love, and the consequences of ignoring its importance.

I am a very intensely emotional person. I also have a bad habit of putting other people’s feelings ahead of my own. I am not the kind of person that instinctively puts on her own oxygen mask first in a time of crisis. My instinct is to make sure everyone around me is okay first. All I want to do is take care of other people, even if I get hurt in the process. I used to think that was love. I’m starting to learn it’s foolishness. Once on this Island helped me see that, but from the safety of a cushioned theatre seat and with the comfort that other people around me were just as emotional (the woman sitting behind me and I were sniffling together and it was comforting).

Anyway, let’s take a step back. On Monday, I was talking to my friend while we were walking to a bookstore. Venting, actually, about mental health stuff, because I’d been having a hard weekend. I talk and write things out to think. At one point I insisted that I knew I hurt myself in an effort to save my friends from the emotional shrapnel that I send flying during my worst moments. And my friend snapped back at me, that no, I didn’t know that. It was quick, but it was like someone pinched me hard enough to wake me up.

Because oh shit. He was right. So right. But I always do such a good job of masking my insecurities. It was the first time someone I really love ever saw past that and reprimanded me for being foolish. I needed that.

Fast forward a few hours and I’m watching Once on this Island. The whole show, because it’s just so sad, makes me so emotional. It didn’t hit me the first time, but it sure as hell did the second time. I’m a person who believes in love and fate. I’m a hopeless romantic. But this time watching the show was different. During “Forever Yours,” a song in which Ti Moune takes care of Daniel obsessively after he’s in a bad car accident, I started to feel tears form in my eyes. Ti Moune and I, as people, are very different of course. But I connected to the way she devoted every ounce of her energy to take care of Daniel. It felt like I was watching myself on the stage, sacrificing my own strength and energy for someone else. What theatre does is it allows me the distance to understand my own feelings and work through those emotions. Catharsis.

As the musical went on, the knot that had formed in my stomach tied tighter and tighter and tighter throughout the show. When Ti Moune leaves her loving family to chase love. When she takes care of Daniel. When she is ultimately forsaken by the grands hommes and they kick dirt at her. I felt the tears build and build and build until “When We Are Wed” started and that’s when I just lost it.

It’s the moment when Ti Moune’s selfless love and displays of emotion come back to bite her.

As a survivor of sexual violence, too, I felt all the shame and guilt of having the rug pulled out from under me. I felt every little bit of the way that loving someone so strongly and so deeply, putting other people’s needs ahead of your own, can destroy every fiber of your sanity. I felt like that emotional through-line of the show was a caution to me, that if I kept on the path I was going on, I would eventually emotionally exhaust myself and eventually I would go too far and I would never recover.

So I started crying even harder during “A Part of Us.” Tears were streaming down my face and I couldn’t make them stop. It was a mix of sadness and joy and admiration at the beauty of the show’s end. Every time I tried to wipe away my tears, more came.

It was the moment I realized I need to change my life. I need to take care of myself. I need to put myself first. Because while it’s beautiful how Ti Moune sacrifices herself and ultimately returns to the gods, I want more than that. And I knew watching this scene that I had a choice. I could continue to be self-destructively selfless and end up like her, as a story, as a tragic, cautionary fairy tale. Ti Moune will never get to experience real, validating love. She will never get to see her loving family again. She will never walk among the trees or in the surf again. She sacrifices herself for love and that’s the end. She lives on in a way, but her light still goes out.

Or I could stop. I could slow down and look around me and breathe. I could put my oxygen mask on now because I need it. Because if I kept going the way I had been, I knew I was going to burn out. I could feel it. And I could feel myself starting to prepare to say my goodbyes, even if I wasn’t fully aware of what I was doing.

I want to live. I want to be here for a long time. I want to make so many memories with friends. I want to love others deeply, but I want to love myself too. I’m always going to hold Once on this Island close to my heart now, because seeing it might have saved my life, even in just a little way. It’s so beautiful, so hopeful and so magical. That’s the power of theatre.

When I hear the music, I will always now remember the power of love, but also the importance of knowing to balance a love of others with a love of self. Self-love is more important than anything else. I’m going to fight my mental illness head on this year. I’m going to get help. I’m going to deal with my shit. And love will win, but it won’t destroy me, because I’ll have self-love on my side.

That is why I tell the story.