Vassar Quarterly - Spring 2018 - 48
a fun-loving but often clueless
and immature fellow who lives
at the bottom of the sea and wears square pants. She's a sea-diving
squirrel named Sandy Cheeks, SpongeBob's intelligent and levelheaded pal.
reunited in a show for the first time since they acted together
at Vassar, Ethan Slater '14 and Lilli Cooper '12 are headliners of the
Broadway cast of SpongeBob SquarePants, a rollicking tribute to the
beloved Nickelodeon character who has been entertaining millions
of fans since 1999.
Some of those fans are notable musicians-Joe Perry and Steven
Tyler of Aerosmith, Sara Bareilles, Cyndi Lauper, John Legend, and
the late David Bowie, to name a few. They wrote the songs the cast
performs in the show at the Palace Theatre in Manhattan. SpongeBob's
official Broadway debut was in December.
It's Slater's first Broadway appearance-Cooper made her debut in
Spring Awakening when she was still in high school and also performed
in Wicked-and both are excited about bringing SpongeBob's wacky
adventures to New York after a series of performances in Chicago
SpongeBob drew rave reviews from Chicago critics. (The Chicago
Sun Times described it as "wildly playful and imaginative," and the
Chicago Tribune as "deliciously quirky.") But Slater says the show has
undergone some significant improvements since that production-
"Some of the music has changed, and the jokes are better."
He should know. He's been witnessing the evolution of SpongeBob
SquarePants since its inception. In the summer following his sophomore
year at Vassar, he was one of the original actors invited by director
Tina Landau to a "movement lab,'' a series of workshops where
participants brainstormed about turning the SpongeBob saga into a
play. "At that point, there was no script, no music; it was just an idea,"
Over the next several months, a script was developed, some
songs for the show were written, and Landau began to hold auditions.
Slater was cast as SpongeBob, and he was in the room with Landau
for musical auditions when he looked at a list of names of those who
would be singing that day. "I flipped the page, and there was Lilli's
name," he recalls. "When she walked in, it was like a reunion. We
were really excited to see each other."
Slater and Cooper say they had followed each other's careers after
they graduated, but it was the first time they'd met up professionally.
Cooper, who grew up in a theatrical family-her father, Chuck Cooper,
won a Tony award in 1999-says she chose Vassar "because it had
such a strong drama and film department, and because it was close to
Production photos, Joan Marcus / Portrait, Samuel Stuart Photography
Two Alums Take on