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Belmont alumnus helps turn TPAC into Bikini Bottom with ‘Spongebob the Musical’

They say that Belmont can take you “from here to anywhere,” so 2016 Belmont alumnus Ryan Blihovde headed straight for Bikini Bottom.

Following a cast of childhood-favorite characters, “Spongebob the Musical” put a modern political twist on the familiar setting of Bikini Bottom when it lit up the Tennessee Performing Arts Center Tuesday night.

In the opening number, the entire town was introduced and as cast members interacted with the audience, the room was transported to Bikini Bottom, evoking Cirque Du Soleil more than it did a Broadway musical.

Blihovde ran all the Foley sound — the reproduction of everyday sound effects — for the show. He said that in a show like this, Foley sounds are difficult because it can change every show.

“When Spongebob walks, there’s these iconic squeaks, and every time on the stage when they’re walking, I’m making footsteps. It’s always paying attention to what’s happening night to night. When it comes together, it’s a magical kind of tightrope act,” said Blihovde.

The musical emphasized the cast’s physicality, with members of the ensemble playing multiple characters throughout, such as the fanatic sardines and tap dancing anemone. Spongebob’s movements were as vibrant and cartoony as they were in the TV show. At one point, he climbed through multiple moving ladders, twisting upside down in a gravity-defying feat.

The show was perfect for all ages because there was truly something for everyone. Pop music blended with accessible political commentary to captivate the entire audience throughout the show.

“The music is written by people who you hear on the radio every day. The whole storyline is a volcano threatens to destroy Bikini Bottom, and the government and the media pit everyone against each other, which is very on-point in this time,’’ Blihovde said. “Adults seeing this show will understand how all of this stuff is so relevant in today’s political climate.”

Even the costumes made a political statement, reminiscent of a Paris avant-garde fashion week style with many of them recycled from discarded items that could be found in the ocean. One costume was made entirely out of Ikea bags.

The musical concluded perfectly: with a sing along version of the Spongebob theme song. Beach balls were tossed around throughout the audience, bringing everyone together for one last musical moment.

“Spongebob the Musical” can be seen at TPAC and will have showings through Sunday.

This article written by Noelle Westel. Contributing reporting by Abigail Bowen. Photo by Jeremy Daniel, courtesy of TPAC.

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