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South Valley Journal

If nautical nonsense be something ya wish, come see ‘The SpongeBob Musical’

Apr 13, 2021 01:53PM ● By Jet Burnham

During rehearsal, RHS students reach for the stars to become Broadway stars. (Jet Burnham/City Journals)

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

If nautical nonsense be something ya wish, come see the wacky, warm-hearted, underwater singing and dancing Utah premiere of “The SpongeBob Musical,” a comedy musical based on the animated television series “SpongeBob SquarePants.” The show, which features all the beloved characters from the cartoon and a message of the power of friendship, will be performed by students in Riverton High School’s music dance theater class under the direction of drama teacher Clin Eaton.

“If there was any version of ‘SpongeBob’ that you needed to see, it would be this musical,” choreographer Michael Milkanin said. “It is high-energy, it is camp, it is funny, it is quirky, it is cartoon and it is heartfelt. ‘SpongeBob’ has so much heart and drive. Everyone can find themselves in ‘SpongeBob,’ just trying to be their best self.”

The show’s music is as diverse as the creatures in the sea, swimming the gamut from Panic! at the Disco, David Bowie, Plain White T’s and Aerosmith to rapper T.I., Lady Antebellum, Cyndi Lauper and John Legend.

Ethan Smith, who plays the lead role of SpongeBob, said each character has his or her own genre of music that emphasizes their personality.

“Plankton definitely represents a rapper, because he's got this swagger evil plan,” he said. “And then SpongeBob and Squidward definitely represent classical musical theater; SpongeBob is more modern, and Squidward is more classical. Sandy is country, and Patrick is totally the church gospel music.”

The stage crew’s creative sets and props will immerse the masked and socially distanced audience members in an underwater wonderland for shows playing April 15, 16, 17 and 19 at 7 p.m. Tickets must be purchased in advance at rivertonathletics.com/event-tickets.

Senior Anson Bagley said the play is a great show for people who haven’t seen theater for a long time and who have had a hard year.

“Clin chose the most ridiculous, the goofiest, the funniest show that he possibly could have chosen,” Bagley said. “I think something that's just so light-hearted and so goofy and so, so funny, is what people are going to need right now.”

Bagley plays Squidward the octopus and will be dealing with some extra legs, which should be entertaining during his tap-dancing number.

The choreographer responsible for that bit of creativity is RHS alumnus Michael Milkanin. Few will remember him as Sailor Tapper Number One in Riverton High School’s 2009 production of “Anything Goes”; more will remember him as Oaken in the Broadway traveling tour of “Frozen,” a role he played until the pandemic put the show on hold. While he anticipates going back on tour—hitting Salt Lake in November—in the meantime, he is choreographing the RHS show as a way of giving back to the program and to the teacher that got him started.

“This is my alma mater, so it's not like I'm coming to a new place feeling like I'm a shining star,” he said. “I'm coming to my theater teacher, who taught me everything I know and was the only reason why I first took theater in the first place, so it just feels like coming home. This is a theater program that told me that I can do anything. And so I hope that I can allow people to believe that who you are is worthwhile. Whether or not this is your whole life, committing 100% is going to be worth your time.”

Milkanin credits the encouragement from Eaton to pursue acting after high school instead of physical therapy. He studied in the musical theater program at BYU, which set him on the pathway to Broadway.

Bagley hopes to follow the same pathway—he was recently accepted to the same program. He also credits Eaton for exposing him to experiences working with professionals such as Milkanin and Broadway Hamilton star Thayne Jasperson.

“I just feel honored to work with such phenomenal choreographers,” Bagley said. “I have increased exponentially as a dancer in ways that I couldn't have without them.” He said seeing success stories firsthand also gives him hope that he has a chance for success in theater and/or film.

“A lot of times you get discouraged because other people have been doing this so much longer and I think I'm never going to be able to compete,” he said. “What I love about theater is you bring your own individuality to it. And seeing all the professionals do that with all their work gives me a lot of hope for myself going into the future.”

Bagley also said it helps that Eaton has high expectations for his students.

“They're not unfair expectations, and he always gives us the resources to achieve them as long as students are willing to put in the focus and the effort,” Bagley said.

Milkanin has been impressed with the efforts of the 28 cast members of “SpongeBob.”

“They have unflappable confidence and willingness to do anything I tell them,” he said. “If I said everyone's going to do a backflip, they would all be like, ‘OK, I've never done it before, but I'll try.’ They will put in the work, so I always feel like every time I come here, I don't have to hold back. I'm not dumbing anything down. If we're telling the story of ‘SpongeBob,’ we'll tell the story, and we will tell it how it should be because I know that they will rise to the occasion.”