Hold on to your Krabby Patties because the underwater city of Bikini Bottom and all its inhabitants are in peril in the Southwest Missouri Regional Youth Theatre’s production of Nickelodeon’s “The SpongeBob Musical.”

Showtime is at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday in the Joplin High School performing arts center, 2104 Indiana Ave. Tickets are $10 for adults and $8 for children and senior citizens. The musical is rated G and open to all ages.

The musical adaptation is based on one of Nickelodeon’s longest-running animated children’s sitcoms, “SpongeBob SquarePants,” which was created by Steve Hillenburg. “The SpongeBob Musical” was originally directed and co-created by Tina Landau with songs by various artists and a book by Kyle Jarrow.

The whimsical and family-friendly musical follows main character SpongeBob and his quest to save Bikini Bottom after learning a nearby volcano will erupt in the next 48 hours. The cast includes appearances by SpongeBob, Squidward Q. Tentacles, Sandy Cheeks, Patrick Star, Sheldon Plankton and Mr. Krabs.

The production also features 17 original songs written by award-winning artists such as David Bowie, Cyndi Lauper and John Legend. It’s also one of the most choreographed shows, with 11 dance numbers.

From crew to cast, 54 students from five area high schools are involved in the production of “The SpongeBob Musical.” Students participating in this year’s program hail from Joplin, Carl Junction, Webb City, Neosho and Mount Vernon high schools. Those involved in the show range from incoming freshmen to seniors who recently graduated.

Summer theater program

The show is being presented by the Southwest Missouri Regional Youth Theatre, a free annual summer program open to those with a passion for the arts. The four-week program offered free to teens was launched in 2021 by vocal director Monica Reynolds, choreographer Zach Pettit and Ashley Trotnic, director and theater teacher at Joplin High School.

Trotnic said some students won’t have another show at their schools until the fall or spring, leaving a huge gap for those who are committed to theater.

“For a lot of these kids, theater is their life in school, so when we hit summer, they don’t know what to do,” she said. “Originally, this is why we started doing summer shows at Joplin High School several years ago because we had students who still wanted to stay connected during the summer and wanting to do theater. We wanted to give them an outlet.”

The community theater program not only gives students half a fine arts credit but also allows them to make new friends outside of their school district and support area theater departments, Trotnic said.

“In theater, everyone gets so close, and it’s like a family,” she said. “They’re forming great friendships, and it’s translating on stage beautifully. I also think it’s really cool that people want to dedicate a month of their summer to be involved in this production. I love that because I would have lived for something like this in the summer when I was their age.”

Emilia Campbell, 16 and an incoming junior at Joplin High School, will play SpongeBob, who takes it upon himself to save the city of Bikini Bottom from the eruption of the volcano, Mount Humongous.

“SpongeBob is always trying to make people feel good, and he just wants the best for everyone,” she said. “I really have a great time just being my own version of SpongeBob.”

Campbell said she’s been performing in musicals since elementary school. She participated in the Regional Youth Theatre program last year for “Shrek the Musical.”

“I really like the fact that you can express yourself through other characters, and you’re able to have this new light,” Campbell said. “You learn a lot and you meet a lot of people. Some of my best friends I have met through theater. We all audition together, and it’s a lot of fun. I like that there are so many different schools coming together. It brings a really cool mix of talent that you don’t usually get.”

‘Breath of fresh air’

Lindsey Belnap, 17, an incoming senior at Joplin High School, will play Patrick Star, SpongeBob’s best friend. She said it’s surreal to perform in the musical adaptation because she grew up watching the animated television series, which ran for 13 seasons.

“I’d always watch it with my family, and we would watch the old episodes from 1999,” she said. “It’s just a classic.”

Addy Ragsdale, 16 and an incoming junior at Webb City High School, will play the scientist squirrel Sandy Cheeks, another friend of SpongeBob’s. It’s up to SpongeBob, Patrick and Sandy to formulate a plan in order to save Bikini Bottom.

“It’s really colorful,” she said about the show. “The way that they translated the animation on stage, watching it just makes you feel happy, and I think we could all use more of that.”

Bikini Bottom, which is located in the Pacific Ocean, is brought to life on stage through projectors, props and a bubble machine.

Kyahn Ely, 18 and a recent graduate of Webb City High School, will play Sheldon Plankton, the main antagonist who aims to take advantage of the panic and fear of the apocalypse for his own gain. Ely said the musical is like an episode from the animated series, and Plankton uses the apocalypse to get people on his side.

“He tries to stop SpongeBob from saving the town,” he said.

Ely also participated in the theater program during its inaugural year, where he was the Big Bad Wolf in “Shrek the Musical.” Although he graduated last month, he said he loved the program so much that he had to return.

“This program has expanded, and there’s even more schools involved this year,” he said. “It’s great to work with other students and to see new faces. It’s a breath of fresh air.”

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News reporter

Kimberly Barker is a news reporter for The Globe who covers Northeast Oklahoma, Southeast Kansas, as well as Carl Junction, Carthage and Webb City. She can be reached by email at kbarker@joplinglobe.com or by calling 417-627-7364.