Walking through Times Square the other day, I saw the SpongeBob SquarePants signs on the marquee of the Palace Theatre, and I was reminded: oh, yeah, Nickelodeon is coming to Broadway. About bloody time. Now, while I wish SpongeBob luck, as I do any musical just starting out, if I’m honest, it’s not what I would have chosen for Nickelodeon’s Broadway debut. I grew up and did my Nickelodeon watching in the 1990s (the best time, in my opinion, to have been watching Nickelodeon), and while I caught the beginning of SpongeBob’s amazingly successful run, I was a bit too old to become the kind of fan I was of Nick’s other shows. This is why I have given some thought, of late, to which of those shows I think Nickelodeon should turn into musicals.
Submitted for the approval of the OnStage reading public, I give you: The List of 8 Musicals Nickelodeon Should Do Next.
Hey Arnold!: One of Nickelodeon’s most enduringly popular 90s Nicktoons (a new movie based on the series is in the works), Hey Arnold! is already known for the importance music plays in its title character’s life: he’s a 4th grader who loves jazz. With its city setting (a combination of cities like Seattle, Portland, and Brooklyn), and eccentric characters, not to mention out-there mythologies (remember the episodes about the “Haunted Train” and the giant fish?), there’s plenty of material to draw from and beautiful settings to depict. Arnold’s football-shaped head might prove a challenge, but they do all sorts of heads on Broadway these days.
The Wild Thornberrys: Imagine the Broadway version of The Lion King, but with a quirky family of British wildlife documentarians, the younger daughter of which can talk to the animals, stumbling through the kingdom. That’s what The Wild Thornberrys: The Musical could be like. Unfortunately, Tim Curry probably wouldn’t be able to reprise his role as the family patriarch, Nigel Thornberry (though perhaps Flea, from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, could be convinced to play an ageless version of his character, Donnie the wild boy), but I’m sure someone like Norbert Leo Butz could do the role justice. Eliza Thornberry could be a great break-out role for a young, freckly, bespectacled, red-haired actress, and the show could focus on the story of how she got her ability to talk to animals, how she learned to cope with it, and how she used it for good. It could be like a superhero origin story.
Gullah Gullah Island: Episodes of Gullah Gullah Island were already very musical, and the semi-autobiographical show that took place on St. Helena Island, off South Carolina’s coast, focused on teaching children about the island’s culture and about free-thinking. It also featured a person in a giant frog costume. The music, if not completely unheard of on Broadway, would be fairly unfamiliar to Broadway audiences and could have them dancing in the isles. In fact, it could be a great audience participation show. I can’t imagine them doing it without having Binyah Binyah (the giant frog, whose name means “island native”) hopping down the aisle at least once and interacting with kids in the audience.
Good Burger: “Welcome to Good Burger, home of the Good Burger, can I take your order?” You know how Waitress, after a brief introduction to its central character, opens with the celebratory “Opening Up” number, in which the diner is ceremoniously opened for business by the cast? My vision for the Good Burger musical is for Ed, the character with the famous catch phrase played unforgettably by Kel Mitchell originally, doing a similar number all by himself. Other people would be there “opening up,” but he’s singing and dancing and basically doing a one man ensemble number. It’s pretty easy to imagine if you’re familiar with the movie or the skits from All That. From there, the raucous comedy of the movie with some added songs would carry the show through to its conclusion, and everyone would leave with a big smile on their faces.
Clarissa Explains It All: Most of these musicals could be done pretty much as they were in their original forms. Clarissa Explains It Allmight need some updating considering the whole point was she was the typical American teenage girl with the problems that come with being so, and while many of those problems remain the same, plenty of new ones have come along that could do with some explaining. Her relationship with her annoying little brother, Ferguson, would be both the heart and primary conflict of the musical, as it often was on the show. A cast recording for an updated Clarissa Explains It All musical could become an important survival guide for modern teenagers…and also maybe get them interested in Broadway musicals.
The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo: From The Mystery of Edwin Drood and Clue to Curtains and even The Play That Goes Wrong, the classic “whodunit” trope has done well on stage, which is why Nickelodeon should do a musical based on The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo. Its title character, a Chinese American teenage detective, finds herself solving crimes despite being warned against doing so by her innkeeper grandfather, a former detective himself, and the police for whom she works as an intern. Audiences love solving puzzles, and a good mystery can be very satisfying to watch play out, especially live on stage.
Aaahh!!! Real Monsters: Monsters on stage can be hard, which is why capturing the ridiculousness of Aaahh!!! Real Monsters would be crucial to the musical’s success. Each reveal of how the individual monsters scare people (becoming huge, imitating every day objects, detaching body parts), could showcase a fun new bit of amazing stagecraft. And like so very much of children’s literature today, Aaahh!!! Real Monsterstakes place at a school and its main characters are misfits even when they should fit in, so there’s a lot that would appeal to kids in the audience. There would also be plenty to appeal to adults, since a show featuring disgusting looking monsters that takes place beneath a city dump is a great place to hide adult humor.
Are You Afraid of the Dark?: Ultimately, the Aaahh!! Real Monsters musical probably wouldn’t be that scary, since that was never really the point of the cartoon either. Are You Afraid of the Dark?, on the other hand, gave me nightmares. “The Tale of the Thirteenth Floor.” *shudder* There are not enough creepy, scary musicals in the world, and Are You Afraid of the Dark? comes complete with a great framing device, that of the campfire meetings of the Midnight Society (I have never wanted to be in a club more than I wanted to be in that one). Plenty of the MidnightSociety’s “tales” could be great musical theatre fodder, or they could come up with a brand new one for the musical. Just before intermission, some twist could be introduced in the tale, and then suddenly: blackout, campfire, and the storyteller says we’ll have to wait for the conclusion until the next meeting of the Midnight Society. Fortunately, the next meeting will be in fifteen minutes. The potential gives me goosebumps…but for the record, I’m not advocating for a Goosebumps musical. At least, not in this article.
So there you have it, my picks for great potential future Nickelodeon musicals. If these were in the pipeline, I don’t think I would mind if Nickelodeon went all Disney on Broadway. I left out some of my favorite Nick shows because I couldn’t picture them as musicals, but maybe there’s a way. What do you think of my list? Is it All That? What Would You Do differently? Come on, spill your Guts. On that note, which one of these musicals would feature slime? Probably the monster one, right? There’s got to be slime. I wonder if there’s slime in the SpongeBob SquarePants musical.
Aaron Netsky’s writing has appeared on AtlasObscura.com, Slate.com, TheHumanist.com, ThoughtCatalog.com, Medium.com, and all over his personal blogs, Cantonaut (http://cantonaut.blogspot.com) and 366 Days/366 Musicals (https://366days366musicals.tumblr.com). He is also a novelist, actor, and singer who has performed and worked in a variety of capacities off and off-off Broadway. Follow him on Twitter @AaronNetsky.