The Simpsons are responsible for my worldview, more so than any school, church or afterschool group. And as I get older, I start to understand Homer Simpson’s plight. But I’ll never be in the position of Homer — kids, homeowner, underqualified for a job at a nuclear power plant.
The cartoon character who really captures my life as it is now is Squidward Tentacles from SpongeBob Squarepants.
For those unfamiliar with the TV show about a sponge who lives in a pineapple under the sea, Squidward is an underappreciated artist who can’t get past a job as a cashier at the burger joint The Krusty Krab. Whether it’s his attempts to master the clarinet or painting, he just can’t get a break. I feel the same way with my musical pursuits.
Of course, when The SpongeBob Musical comes to Eugene as part of its North American tour, the actor portraying Squidward doesn’t feel that way — and his artistic value is front and center.
Cody Cooley has been tap dancing since he was 3 years old. He got into musical theater at 5. However, to portray Squidward, he had to learn how to tap dance with four legs.
“It’s different tapping with tentacles,” he says. “Tapping with four instead of two makes you tap a little bit lazier.”
He says when rehearsing for the part in New York City, he practiced the part twice a day to work up his stamina for tap dancing with the extra legs (I mean, tentacles).
It’s all second nature now, he adds.
All that work pays off because Squidward’s segment, “I’m Not a Loser,” is Cooley’s favorite part of the show. He says the choreography is brilliant and, when the audience is hot, they go wild for the song.
Cooley never watched SpongeBob growing up, but he identifies with Squidward’s sense of humor. Of course children enjoy the show, but he says the musical also appeals to older millennials (like me) who watched the TV show when it first came out, since the first three seasons are the source material.
The story of the musical is that Bikini Bottom is faced with a threat of natural disaster: The nearby volcano Mount Humongous is about to erupt. The town is in a panic about this existential threat and falls into chaos.
“So every night or every day, our world is ending as an actor,” Cooley says. “But it is a real time crunch, so when we get the relief of it’s OK, it’s just joy.”
Because of the storyline’s fun energy, he says the cast leaves the stage happier than coming in.
“We always say we come off stage happier than when we came into work,” he says. “You don’t have that every day in most theatrical settings because either the gravitas of the play or you’re not really into it.”
The cast members aren’t the only ones who have a good time at the show. In 2018, the musical received 12 Tony nominations, winning one for Best Scenic Design of a Musical.
The SpongeBob Musical has some huge names in its songbook, with songs by David Bowie, The Flaming Lips, John Legend, Aerosmith, Cyndi Lauper, Panic! At the Disco and more.
Although the musical includes a wide variety of pop music, it comes together. Cooley says that’s because the artists (except Bowie) wrote to a very specific plot point, and Tom Kit (a 2010 Pulitzer Prize winner) orchestrated it all into one voice.
Squidward, Cooley says, is an everyman. He has a secret talent and a desire to show the world what he’s really capable of.
“I think everybody connects to that,” Cooley says. “Everybody has a hobby, played in a band, did musicals when they were young — some artistry. Squidward is that idea that, ‘Oh, maybe I could fulfill that.’ Squidward never gave up.”
And therein lies the beauty of Squidward.
The SpongeBob Musical runs Friday and Saturday, March 6 and 7, at the Hult Center.