With the plethora of family-friendly activities geared toward the younger set, you may be wondering what to do with your tweens and teens in New York City. Read what happens when a Long Island mom treats her teenage daughter to brunch at Charlie Palmer at The Knick and a visit to the Theater District to see SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical.
By the time your kid gets into high school, this disquieting reality takes hold: Your reign as his or her companion of choice is, if not over, within an inch of its life. So every outing becomes precious, and it’s nice to have one now and then that’s not, say, to the outlet mall. Living where we do, it’d be ridiculous not to put a Broadway show into rotation.
And that’s the juncture I found myself at with my 14-year-old daughter, Amelia, recently. But which show? By the time we won the Hamilton lottery she’d be in college. The Lion King we’d already seen. She had heard from a teacher that Dear Evan Hansen was “really sad.” I would have loved to have seen Beautiful, but Amelia hadn’t the faintest who Carole King is. SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical was the dark horse on our list. (When I heard late last year that a Broadway show had been made of the undersea fry cook, whose chirpy, semi-grating intonations had played on a continuous loop in my home from 2002 to...isn’t it still on upstairs?...I did utter “What next?”)
But, I figured, if nothing else it had to be upbeat. And, thanks to an approval nod from her BFF who’d seen it the week before, Amelia was game.
Knick Before Nick
But first things first. If you’re going to take a hangry teen into a theater, you may as well turn around and go home. Though where to eat was also a little bit of a tricky decision. Finally free of the kid-menu requirement, I could upgrade from the “family-friendly” standards. But we still wanted a place that was comfortably casual, not stuffy (and close to the theater, as it was raining.) We landed at Charlie Palmer at The Knick, in the 1906 landmark hotel, The Knickerbocker, at 6 Times Square.
Perched on the corner of the fourth floor overlooking Broadway and 42nd Street, Chef Palmer’s restaurant is elegant, yet modern and airy. I ordered the Midtown Eggs Benedict (Maine lobster, poached organic eggs, potato rösti, béarnaise sauce), while Amelia opted for the Knick Breakfast Sandwich (fried egg, Comte, avocado, and Italian speck). After we looked up the second and last ingredients (a white French cheese and a type of prosciutto, respectively), my daughter decided to hold the speck. We both finished every bite of our meals. Oh, and there were fries, which were not long for this world. The service was friendly and quick; we had plenty of time to make our curtain at the Palace Theatre, four blocks north, on Broadway.
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Under the Sea Antics
Now, I know my Plankton from my Pearl, as Amelia’s two older brothers had, one after the other, lionized Spongebob and his aquatic denizens. But my daughter was walking into the Palace Theatre pretty cold. She knew who SpongeBob was, but the Nickelodeon show was never her thing. (She’d been a Victorious girl.) I wondered if she’d be a little lost, stuck on the oddball details that fans hardly noticed after a while, like the fact the SpongeBob lives on the ocean bottom, yet inside a pineapple.
I needn’t have worried. Although later on she mentioned that she didn’t get a couple of the wink-wink jokes aimed at the adults in the room—a mainstay of the Nickelodeon episodes—Amelia enjoyed the show, which she deemed “good.” (If you have a kid this age, you know they almost never gush. You have to tease together their thoughts from a handful of clues that only you would recognize. After my analysis of these, I can state with confidence she enjoyed the show.)
The show started, as most of the episodes do, with the title character, played by Ethan Slater, letting loose with his trademark cackle of a bubby laugh. Slater, in his Broadway debut, embodies an perennially-naive, energetic sponge—something I can only imagine he never aspired to, let alone anticipated, in acting school.
One of the many improbable scenarios that will confound SpongeBob virgins and charm everyone else: a crotchety octopus with a misleading name and an American Idol dream, clad in a sparkly celadon top hat and tails, dancing with a chorus of fuschia sea anemones to “I’m Not A Loser” by They Might Be Giants. Squidward Q. Tentacles is brought to life by Gavin Lee, who, say some critics, almost stole the show.
And what of my expectation that the show would be upbeat? Um, yeah. It’s a lavish, trippy, psychedelic production, reputed to have cost $20 million. It’s—nearly literally—one big giggle from beginning to end, impossibly springy, like trying to keep a cork at the bottom of your water glass. Even with the characters facing down apocalyptic doom, the set, costumes, score, and presence of Slater, who, as I recall, was never offstage, makes it actually feel like “The Best Day Ever.”
When SpongeBob, as you knew he would, saves the town by the sheer force of his optimism, bubbles and streamers, in colors that I’m sure don’t exist anywhere in nature, rain down on the audience.
Saying it was the best day, ever with my daughter would be hyperbole, but it was one of the really good ones.
Sure beat the heck out the outlets.
Main image: Ethan Slater (SpongeBob SquarePants), Danny Skinner (Patrick Star), Lilli Cooper (Sandy Cheeks), and the Original Broadway Company of SpongeBob SquarePants, The Broadway Musical.