Bikini Bottom Comes to Nixa

Behind NHS Theatre Department’s Winter Production


Justice Jones

Singing into his spatula, junior John Perry personifies the titular sponge during a dress rehearsal of “The SpongeBob Musical.” “Every night there were over 1,000 people in the audience,” Perry said. “That was honestly one of the most mind blowing parts, that we got to go out there and tell that story to that many people, and let that many people step out of their lives and invest in SpongeBob for a second.”

   The NHS Theater Department took audiences under the sea in the winter 2023 production “The SpongeBob Musical.” With over 150 cast and crew, this was one of the largest shows put on by the theater department. The lead role of SpongeBob Squarepants was played by junior John Perry.

   “It was the biggest show we’ve ever done,” Perry said. “I think part of that is the show itself was about community and love and leaning on your friends in times of hardships, so I think it brought so many people together and it brought so many people to see it.”

   Some people felt underwhelmed by the choice when it was announced at the 2022 theater banquet, including junior Heidi Sheffield, who was later cast as Pearl Krabs.

   “When the show was originally announced, I was incredibly upset,” Sheffield said. “So many thoughts were running through my head like ‘Really? We’re doing Spongebob the Musical?’”

   However, she soon warmed up to the idea of taking a trip to Bikini Bottom.

   “…I fell in love with it,” Sheffield said. “Hearing ‘Daddy Knows Best’ for the first time was when I realized I may have a shot at a lead.”

   Perry, on the other hand, was excited, and knew that he wanted to be Nixa’s SpongeBob.

   “When [Dr. Fleetwood] announced it at the banquet, in that moment I was like ‘I have to get that role,’” Perry said. “I have to get that role because that story means so much, and I think more than anything it’s about the story.” 

   After the show was announced, some actors took initiative and began preparing over the summer for the roles they hoped to receive.

   “There were so many things that this show needed that I couldn’t do,” Perry said. “I wasn’t physically capable of them. So I spent my entire summer before this year just working on those kinds of things. I think I spent like a month trying to get the splits, and I never really got them, but I got close enough so it works.”

   Perry worked to stretch his vocal range to meet the demanding role of SpongeBob, who hit a high note during his solo song.

   “The second I found out what the show was, I got in my car and I tried to sing it, and I couldn’t hit the note,” Perry said. “It was too high. I worked day in and day out, trying to stretch my vocal range in the healthiest ways I could until I got it.”

   Similarly to Perry, Sheffield trained her voice over the summer.

   “I spent all summer training myself to belt like Pearl, which was difficult, but it helped me grow as a singer,” Sheffield said.

   When the cast list came out, Sheffield learned about her leading role surrounded by friends.

   “I was at work when I got texts from all my friends saying ‘Heidi check the cast list,’” Sheffield said. “I was with Madelyn Middleton [11] when I saw it and I started jumping up and down, screaming ‘I got Pearl! I got Pearl!’”

   After training for almost a year, Perry got the role of SpongeBob. Perry said one reason getting the role was important to him because he wanted to represent the LGBT community.

   “For me, it was a really big deal to be an out person, like an openly gay person, and get to be on stage and lead that musical, like lead something so huge, especially with the state of Nixa right now, like what’s happening with the queer community in our school,” Perry said. “I think it was a really cool opportunity to get on stage and show the school that queer people can be successful despite the conservative town that they’re in.”

   Perry said he was glad to set an example for other young LGBT people in Nixa.

   “This show is all about love, and leaning on your community despite your differences, and I think it meant so much to me that I got to be that representation that I didn’t have when I was younger,” Perry said.

   Many of the actors used a variety of methods to get in character. Sophomore Brycin Stoll was cast as Squidward Tentacles, and embraced his character by dialing into the role.

   “My method was just having a moment of silence to myself, and walking around and putting myself in his shoes, imagining how he would do things rather than how I would,” Stoll said.

   Perry had a similar method before he went on stage.

   “For any character, I always take like five minutes of just silence to breathe and meditate to get into a calmer state to be able to take something else on outside of myself,” Perry said.

   The production came with ups and downs, and everything in between. The cast shared many laughs in the weeks leading up to show week.

   “At the first dress rehearsal, Charles Speake [12], my counterpart, ended up ripping his pants almost the entire way down,” Sheffield said. “I went to take off my costume and came back to ripped pants and a crowd around Charles.”

   Stoll often found himself tangled in his elaborate costume.

   “I was actually not able to sit down because of the leg mechanics and it also made it very difficult to run and walk up stairs,” Stoll said. “There were a lot of moments getting tripped up or exhausted during the show.”

   Because of the new performance space, the theater department wanted to take this production to the next level, from elaborate costumes and set pieces to the amount of people involved in the show.

   “We had well over 100 people in this cast, including second through eighth graders,” Sheffield said. “With so many people on stage, it made a difference in what the department can do.”

   New members were drawn to the department because of “The SpongeBob Musical.”

   “Spongebob brought so many people into the department,” Sheffield said. “Many of them were scared or put off by the theater. Throughout Spongebob, all of them came out of their shells and they’re all so different.”

   The elementary, middle school, and junior high students were featured in a number called “Poor Pirates,” where they sang along with Coy Plein (10), who played Patchy the Pirate. The pirates got the chance to interact with the high school students and staff.

   “[The pirates] were just the sweetest,” Perry said. “They were coming into our dressing room every night with different notes and they made me little bracelets that I wear every day. They were just the cutest, it was so fun to have them be a part of it and to get to introduce them to something that I love so much.”

   Nixa had to make changes to the original show in order to make it a better fit for the department. For example, Mount Humongous was a large aspect of the plot, but it was out of Nixa’s capability to make a prop of the same scale and magnitude of the one on Broadway. Instead, the theater brought in cheerleaders to help bring the mountain to life.

   “It has never been done the way we did it,” Perry said. “It’s never been done with cheerleaders or tumblers, so we personified that mountain and I think that was a really cool add-in.”

   Perry said many of the additions came from the talents of the cast.

   “We took the show and we [looked] at what we have,” Perry said. “We have this weird group of people that can do crazy things and we just added everything. Gavin Collins [10] beatboxing, the cheerleaders, the little pirates, there were just so many things. We were leaning on all of our strengths.” 

   The show premiered on March 25. Perry dialed into his role.

   “Knowing exactly what my character wanted, and knowing the purpose of why I was on stage was really what helped me,” Perry said.

   Despite struggles in rehearsals, Perry was able to hit his high note during the performances.

   “…the second I was in front of an audience it just came out effortlessly,” Perry said. “…It felt like the audience’s energy brought me more to life, and it was the most magical thing.”

   The theater department was eager to finally make use of the newly constructed Aetos Center for Performing Arts

   “Seeing the Aetos Center for the first time was sentimental,” Sheffield said. “Being able to walk onto the stage and see where I would be performing in the future months was insane to me. Having my first rehearsal on the stage was to ‘Bikini Bottom Boogie’ and hearing how my voice echoed through the Aetos honestly scared me.”

   The performance hall had a total of 1,150 seats, including a mezzanine level.

   “When I first walked into the Aetos it was a magical experience getting to stand on such a monumental and beautiful stage, and hearing the roaring applause is a moment I will never forget,” Stoll said.

   Although he was going to graduate this year, Perry decided to finish his fourth year of high school to be able to perform on the Aetos stage a couple more times.

   “The only word I can think of is magical, like the feeling of just being on that stage in front of those people,” Perry said. “It’s everything I want to do with my life. It reminded me that this is where I’m supposed to be, and this is my plan, this is what’s right for me.”

   Perry said he was excited to showcase more talented people and see what the department can accomplish next year.   

   “This has been a space where everybody is supporting everyone to grow,” Perry said. “Everybody has different ambitions and different goals for after high school, but we all have one common goal to put on a production that makes other people see something outside of themselves.”