The SpongeBob SquarePapers: Scores

Sometimes fascinating failures inspire more thoughts to explore than straightforward successes. Such is the case for the SpongeBob SquarePants Broadway musical, a show that indirectly touches upon a wide range of subjects regarding the state of theatre (and other topics). In the coming days, I’ll excavate some of these ideas in a series dubbed The SpongeBob SquarePapers


When Tony nominators and voters evaluate the relative quality of scores every season, are their assessments based on how they sound DURING the show, or on the cast recordings afterwards?

I once worked in a Broadway producing office, so let me tell you: Every single nominator and voter receives a free copy of the CD (in addition to a lot more swag — called “mailers” in the industry — that will hopefully swing their votes. I’ve always believed the practice should be outlawed; shouldn’t we try to ensure as much as possible that decisions are made solely based on what’s actually in the shows?).

I only ask because the score for the SpongeBob SquarePants musical sounds WAAAAAAAAY better on the disc than it does on the stage. I’ve previously written about how minuscule orchestras — which are getting smaller by the year — in Broadway theatres really dampen the impact of songs. Since most of SpongeBob‘s are written by pop stars, it make sense that their compositions feel more at home in a studio, where the powers-that-be can digitally fudge around to maximize the power of the listening experience.

Due to the poor sound quality in the theatre and odd orchestrations hamstrung by the aforementioned orchestra size, too many of the songs fall flat inside the Palace (if you want to blame Broadway theatres’ archaic speaker systems for their sometimes-measly amplification, Springsteen on Broadway stands as a testament to how smart sound design teams can elevate a mere guitar and piano into the power of a full-on rock concert).

Yet should a score be judged for these in-theatre factors that the composers may not be in charge of, factors that could even change from night to night? Since most voters wouldn’t be able to read the original sheet music because it’d look like a foreign language even if provided, the CDs might be the best way to hear the scores as the composers intended.

And yet, scores can often come off better out of context than they do in the context for which they were written, and shouldn’t the latter be more important?

And yet and yet, sometimes how a score grows on you can be more meaningful than your knee-jerk reaction.

I’d imagine voters weigh all of these aspects when making their decisions…or they don’t even think about any of this and instead just choose their favorite without overanalyzing like yours truly…

If you happen to be a Tony voter, I’d love to hear/read your approach to this category!

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