It has to be said: There is nothing to suggest that Spongebob Squarepants, nor any of his friends and foes in Bikini Bottom, are Jewish. Squidward, Sandy, Patrick — most likely non-Jews, all of them.
For Jewish fans of the TV cartoon, that may be a bitter pill. But to Zach Kononov, who will play Spongebob’s miserly boss Mr. Krabs in “The Spongebob Musical” now at the Forrest Theatre, the sense of loving community and family that the show creates is distinctly Jewish in its own way.
“The show is about coming together and supporting each other and love and celebration and optimism, which is something that you see reflected in the Jewish culture a lot,” he said.
Kononov is one of a few Jewish people involved in the Forrest Theatre’s production of “The Spongebob Musical,” which opened on Dec. 3 and runs until Dec. 15. The show is recommended for children 5 and up, as well as anyone with a sense of humor.
Besides Kononov, the show features contributions from several other Jews. Tristan McIntyre plays Krabs’ nemesis, Sheldon J. Plankton, and the show is directed by the Tony Award-nominated director of the original Broadway production, Tina Landau.
The critically and commercially successful musical was a smash hit in its Broadway run, with original songs from John Legend, The Flaming Lips, Lady Antebellum, T.I., They Might Be Giants, Panic! At the Disco, members of Aerosmith, Cyndi Lauper, Rob Hyman and Sara Bareilles, among others. That’s not even to mention other music from David Bowie and Brian Eno.
“It’s such a fun place to play, and to come into the theater and be fully immersed in that is extremely exciting,” Kononov said.
Kononov, 28, is from Denver, but he’s no stranger to Philadelphia. He is a 2014 graduate of the University of the Arts. Following his graduation, he moved to New York, where he’s been ever since.
Growing up, Kononov attended a Reform synagogue, though his family later switched to a Conservative shul. Memorably, he took part in the Colorado Children’s Chorale production of “Brundibar,” a musical conceived and performed at Theresienstadt. Though it was “The Music Man” that gave him the acting bug, he values the other experience deeply.
The wonderful oddness of appearing in the critically acclaimed musical based on “Spongebob Squarepants,” a show he grew up watching with his brother, is not lost on Kononov. That the show exists at all is a source of amazement.
“It’s unreal,” he said.
McIntyre is similarly enthused about his part in the musical based on a show he grew up watching with his sister (his favorite episode: “The Idiot Box”).
McIntyre, 21, is a native of Los Angeles, who graduated early from the University of Southern California’s School of Dramatic Arts back in May. Since he was just 5 — right around the time he started watching “Spongebob” — he’s wanted to be an actor. Even at that age, he remembers asking his mother about getting representation.
Though his Jewish practice was limited to holidays with his grandmother in Laguna Beach, his ambition to travel as part of his acting career partially stems from his Birthright trip. Those 10 days, he said, helped him realize how important it was for him to see the world.
McIntyre has played a wide range of characters — Action in “West Side Story,” Tisiphone in “Rough Magic,” Benvolio in “Romeo and Juliet” — but none quite like the owner of the Chum Bucket himself, Plankton. For an actor who originally hoped to be in the ensemble, it’s an exciting challenge.
He was initially skeptical that “Spongebob” could be fashioned into an engaging musical, but after seeing a rendition of the song “BFF” — “a bop,” in McIntyre’s words — he knew it was a joyous production.
Joy, McIntyre said, is the point of the show, though it is not without other attractions.
“We definitely make you feel, and we definitely make you feel nostalgic and care for these characters,” he said.
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