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Meet the Man Playing Our Fave Undersea Sponge in The SpongeBob Musical

Meet the Man Playing Our Fave Undersea Sponge in 'The SpongeBob Musical'

Meet the Man Playing Our Fave Undersea Sponge in 'The SpongeBob Musical'

A little slice of Bikini Bottom is hitting the Broadyway stage.


Your childhood fantasy is about to become a reality: there’s a SpongeBob musical. YUP. And you know what the best part about it is? It’s coming to Broadway.

PRIDE sat down with Ethan Slater — the actor who will be taking on the live-action role of our favorite square, yellow guy — to hear what it’s like playing the lovable, iconic under-the-sea friend.

PRIDE: Ethan, tell us a little bit about who you are, and how you ended up landing the role of SpongeBob in The SpongeBob Musical.

Ethan Slater: Well, I started working on The SpongeBob Musical as a sophomore at Vassar College, which was really perfect timing. I applied to an apprenticeship program as a summer job, and the casting director of that show happened to be involved in the untitled “Tina Landau Project,” which turns out was The SpongeBob Musical. I got the role in the early stages during movement, when they were trying to figure out how to take two-dimensional cartoon characters, and put them on stage in 3D form. Not just replicate or play-act the characters, but really create fully-fledged versions of them, without the use of squares, foam, or area costumes.

So did you end up auditioning for it the same way?

The initial audition was a physical comedy audition. We had a scene or two from the SpongeBob SquarePants TV show, but SpongeBob was called Bubbleburt and they didn’t tell us that is was SpongeBob. We had to figure it out on our own. We were asked to prepare a physical comedy routine. In the routine I prepared, I was trying to put a sweater on, only it was rebelling against me. For the callback, I did a dance to the entirety on "Billie Jean," but while I was dancing to the song, rather poorly, I might add, I was being attacked by a bumble bee. So I had to fight this bee while attempting to dance.

In retrospect, it was pretty embarrassing, but a ton of fun. I only had one day to prepare before the audition and I spent all day preparing, [but] I didn’t feel like it was right. So I went down the hall of my dorm room, knocked on my friend's door, and was like, “Hey Evan, do you want to work on this thing with me? I have to do this physical comedy routine.” He was like “Absolutely,” so we went out onto the quad, and for three hours I tried different variations of the same thing, and Evan told me which he thought was funniest.the-spongebob-musical-spongebob-sandy

What have you done to get into character as SpongeBob? Are you trying to play him differently than how he acted on TV?

In the past four years, I’ve watched a lot of the show. Because SpongeBob is so iconic, people know what his voice sounds like, how he moves, and his spirit. They just get SpongeBob, so I had to do a lot of research in that way. It’s a funny word "research," because my research is sitting at home and watching SpongeBob on TV. While I’ve watched a lot of it, at some point, I need to let him go. This really is a different endeavor, putting him on stage and trying to figure out how to make him as three dimensional and humanly as possible. It’s something that Tina (Landau) talks about a lot: grounding these characters, finding their emotional core, the humanity inside of them, and making sure we’re not playing at what’s happening, but rather, experiencing it. You know, acting. So yes, I’ve watched a lot of the show, but at some point it’s putting the show away and figuring out how to approach the world as SpongeBob, which is also really fun because SpongeBob is optimistic in the face of negativity. He smiles in the face of evil and is always looking on the bright side. Not just in situations, but in people. He really values his friendships, so it’s a great opportunity for me to grow as a person.

I’d say the version of SpongeBob I’m doing is immediately recognizable. I don’t think anyone is going to think I’m anyone but SpongeBob, but I'm also creating a more-three dimensional character.

So how do you go about playing SpongeBob when you’re having a terrible day?

The answer is twofold.

The first thing is that I’m really lucky to be surrounded by some amazing people. The cast of the show is not only filled with some brilliant and talented actors, but also genuinely warm, funny and uplifting people, who I can call my friends. So when I’m having a bad day, my spirits are lifted just by seeing these people. That really helps.

The second thing is that SpongeBob also has really bad days. One of the things I get to do, because I’m playing SpongeBob, is force myself to see the bright side, just like he would. That ends up making me happier.the-spongebob-musical-squidward

Who else have you been working on with this project?

There’s an amazing ensemble and cast. Since the beginning, we’ve been working with Danny Skinner, who I met during the workshop four years ago and became best friends with. He plays Patrick, so it’s life imitating art and art imitating life. Lilly Cooper (Spring Awakening, Wicked) is in the show. She went to Vassar College with me, and she’s crazily talented. I wish I could just rattle off all the names, but it would be a list. And the creative team is also pretty nuts. Getting to work with Tina Landau (Superior Donut, Bells are Ringing) from the start, but also Tom Kit (Next to Normal, American Idiot) who’s doing the music supervising. He’s taking songs written by all these pop, rock, and gospel stars, and creating a cohesive score with them. It’ s magnificent to watch him work. The [musical] artists are surreal. Aerosmith, the late David Bowie, Sara Bareilles, John Legend, Panic at the Disco, Plain White T's, Yolanda Adams, just to name a few.

The list keeps going on and on and each names tops the last. What’s even more incredible than the artists, is that these songs work so well together. Each artist got specific notes about what the scene is about. Then the artists wrote songs that are very recognizable, clearly in their own style, but they also do so much for plot and character. Cyndi Lauper wrote this incredible song that Sandy, Patrick and Spongebob sing together, and when you hear it, you immediately know that it’s Lauper, but it’s also the perfect song for the place in the show. It does exactly what it needs to do.

Lastly, how do we go about seeing you? When are you heading to Broadway?

I unfortunately, don’t know what the dates are for Broadway yet, but hopefully we’ll find out soon. At the moment, we’re finishing up our pre-Broadway run in Chicago’s Oriental Theater, which ends July 10th. Look out for next season, because we should hopefully be on the Broadway stage very soon.the-spongebob-musical-cast

Photos via Joan Marcus/The Spongebob Musical

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Zachary Zane

Zachary Zane is a writer, YouTube influencer, and activist whose work focuses on (bi)sexuality, gender, dating, relationships, and identity politics. Check out his YouTube channel here.

Zachary Zane is a writer, YouTube influencer, and activist whose work focuses on (bi)sexuality, gender, dating, relationships, and identity politics. Check out his YouTube channel here.