By Alicia Venter
“When the smallest of us are underestimated in the wake of a catastrophe, a town learns that it is the size of one’s heart that matters when dealing with grief and overcoming it.”
This is how Liam MacLarty, the director of Richmond Hill’s Holy Child Jesus Teen Drama Group’s performance of “The Spongebob Musical,” summarized their upcoming summer production.
The show will begin this upcoming week, and the performance — which MacLarty describes as “very timely and really, very heartfelt” — is designed for everyone to enjoy and appreciate.
“I’ve noticed a lot of times when I tell members of the community that we’re doing ‘Spongebob,’ everyone thinks it’s the cartoon, but it’s not,” MacLarty said. “It’s this unique animal of joy and love. This is a show for everyone. If you are 100 or if you are one; if you are young at heart or if you are old at heart.”
With the mission statement in the script being “to find and spread joy whenever possible,” the group’s 27 cast members, ranging from ages 13 to 19, and crew are creating a humorous yet meaningful and relevant production. Performances run from Sunday, Aug. 4 through Thursday, Aug. 7 at Msgr. Murray Hall. Tickets are $15.
“The Spongebob Musical” is the 42nd production for the HCJ Teen Drama Group, which began in 1972 with the goal to “get kids off the streets,” MacLarty said. They have hosted a production annually every summer, including during the COVID-19 pandemic, when the group created “QuaranTeen Drama: Theatre Workshops” to continue to encourage people in the arts. During this time, online workshops were held, with Broadway actors and other professionals in the industry making appearances. This is MacLarty’s second full show as director, after serving as assistant director since 2013.
“[Directing] is kind of like being the captain of a boat,” MacLarty said. “You can steer it, you can brace for impact, but at the end of the day, the wave is going to take you where you are going to go.”
The show’s leads are Niko Rissi, 18, who plays Spongebob and Jonathan Kamprath, 20, who plays Patrick. Kamprath falls within the age range for the production because his birthday happened during rehearsals.
For Kamprath, who is originally from Richmond Hill, this is his fifth show, and his second playing one of the lead characters. However, Rissi, who is from Manhattan, only joined this year due to Kamprath’s friendly persistence.
“Jonathan lived around the area, and had been telling me about these shows for a while, so finally I just said, ‘Screw it, I’m going to come out and do this,” Rissi said with a laugh.
Currently enrolled at SUNY Cortland and studying musical theater, this is hardly Rissi’s first time on the stage. However, he shared that he is among some of the nicest people he has ever met while with the HCJ Drama Group, and that it is clear that “they all want to be here and we are all excited to see what this turns into.”
His joy in playing Spongebob comes from his unwavering happiness in the face of adversity or hardship.
“No matter what is thrown at him, he’s going to overcome it, and he’s going to overcome it with a smile on his face, which I can’t say everyone will. He is going to do it all with a smile, no matter if the world’s going to end.”
Kamprath’s dedication to HCJ Drama Group can be seen clearly in his commute — he is currently living in Pennsylvania, and has been either commuting from the Keystone State via the Trans-Bridge bus line or temporarily with Rissi.
“I had been trying to get Nico to do this show for years, and he finally said he wanted to do it,” Kamprath said. “And, quite honestly, Spongebob is one of my favorite shows. I thought if I were going to do it, I better do it now.”
Despite the numerous shows he has been in “The Spongebob Musical” has been his favorite so far. He loves Patrick’s innocence, pointing out how the starfish makes a “very selfish, selfish decision,” in the performance, but that he doesn’t recognize it.
Most of the props were made by members of the drama group, as they creatively crafted costumes out of egg cartons, computer wives out of discarded keyboards and volcanoes out of jungle gyms. Despite the comical constructions fabricated by the crew, MacLarty emphasized that it does not limit the performance to a younger audience.
“A lot of people think that it’s a very silly cartoon show. But really it’s about everybody coming together after a cataclysmic event — they think the world is ending. There’s a subplot of the media, that everybody is angry at them, and then the mayor is cracking down on people,” MacLarty said. “It’s really very timely, and really very heartfelt.”
Both Nikki and Kamprath are hoping to continue their acting careers into their professional lives. Their dynamic will be clear on the stage, sharing a friendship that goes beyond sharing the spotlight.
“To have him be the Spongebob to my Patrick has just been great,” Kamprath said.
Tickets can be purchased outside Msgr. Murray Hall at Holy Child Jesus Parish at 111-02 86th Ave. in Richmond Hill before and after each mass on July 30 and July 31, as well as in the cafeteria of the parish from 7:00 – 9:30 from July 31 through Aug. 3. Seating is reserved. For more information, email [email protected].