MUSCATINE, Iowa–For theatre lovers and performers across the country, the past year has proved deeply taxing. With the COVID-19 pandemic closing theatres or forcing audience sizes to shrink drastically, everyone has felt a little starved for live entertainment. On April 22, 23, and 24, Muscatine High School will perform “SpongeBob the Musical,” for both live and virtual audiences. A silver lining of the pandemic, Muscatine High School graduate Ben Rivera, who performed in “Moulin Rouge” before the pandemic put the show on hiatus, returned to Muscatine to choreograph “Spongebob” and work with students for 10 days.
In late 2020, Muscatine High School Drama Advisor Rene Mauck had no idea if she would have the chance to direct a spring musical. With case counts soaring, the high school only just barely finished their performance of “Leaving Iowa” before school moved to a fully virtual format for several weeks. At the time, Mauck saw that schools could get the rights to “SpongeBob the Musical” and she made a note to consider the show if she had a chance.
When case counts improved in early spring, Mauck got the go ahead to begin working on a musical, and she knew right away “SpongeBob” would work beautifully. “I picked the show because I have the kids for it, and it’s perfect for coming out of a pandemic because it’s about a group of people trying to figure out how to solve a problem and get on with their lives.”
As Mauck began planning for the show, she realized she had a unique opportunity to give her students the chance to work with both a Muscatine High School alumnus and a current Broadway performer. She contacted Rivera and requested he come and do choreography for the show. Though Rivera had sent recorded choreography to Mauck for the musical “Curtains,” he had never had the opportunity to help with a musical in person.
Rivera gladly accepted the opportunity. “This is fun because this was my stage in high school,” he reminisced. “This is where I fell in love with theatre.”
It also gave him his first opportunity to return to the stage since the pandemic started, something that matters to him very much. “It’s an important time,” he emphasized.
For the students performing in the show, the experience has proved just as enjoyable and invigorating. Meagan Gray, a long time musical performer playing the evil Karen the Computer, shared many of Rivera’s feelings. “I didn’t get a musical last year, so that made me want to do it even more,” she explained. “Plus, I love seeing the hard work of rehearsals pay off in the end with four wonderful performances.”
If you would like to experience the hilarity and ebullience of “SpongeBob the Musical” yourself, Mauck invites you to join the audience in person if possible, or from the comfort of your home. You may purchase tickets for both in person and streaming through the high school’s online box office.