Eight performances a week, Ethan Slater transforms himself into SpongeBob SquarePants in the hit Broadway musical of the same name, which is based on Nickelodeon’s long-running animated TV show. But while SpongeBob lives in a pineapple at the bottom of the sea in a place called Bikini Bottom, the 25-year-old, ginger-haired star—with a sheaf of rave reviews (“a powerhouse performer,” “outstanding musical theater chops,” “a once-in-a-lifetime match of actor and character”), Broadway.com’s Best Debut of 2017 award (the show opened this past December) and standing O’s at every show—resides on top of the world. And in Brooklyn, where he enjoyed his "Best Day Ever" in New York City.
“My Best Day Ever in NYC was very simple,” the actor/singer/dancer with the ear-to-ear grin and sunny disposition (just like SpongeBob’s) tells us. “I walked with my fiancée through Brooklyn, from Fort Greene to DUMBO. We stopped at Hungry Ghost coffee shop to keep us warm, and popped into a bunch of little shops along the way (starting with Greenlight Bookstore). Then we got on the water taxi, and took it up to North Williamsburg, where we got lunch. There are so many good places there to eat; one favorite is Sweet Chick. The thing that made it most memorable was seeing the NYC skyline from the East River, and sharing it with someone I love.”
On Ethan’s bucket list of things to do in NYC is a deli tour. “Barney Greengrass, Katz’s, Russ & Daughters, and so on,” he says. “One of my favorite things, and favorite things about NYC, is food. I’d want to compare, contrast and enjoy.” If you want to eat like Ethan, order his favorite nosh: a garlic bagel with cream cheese, lox and capers. Big thumbs-up there.
What else gets Ethan’s seal of approval? “The rivers! NYC is so beautiful, and the rivers are a huge part of that. Follow the Hudson up north, and even before you leave the city, the views become unbelievable (up near Fort Tryon Park and Inwood, for example).” And the people? “New Yorkers are incredible.” Ethan also likes to walk, and when you see the show, you’ll realize that this guy is in top physical shape. “This city is so easy to get around, whether it is for work or sightseeing. You can take the subway and walk pretty much anywhere.” And finally, there’s the actor’s line of work: “There is such amazing theater here, on Broadway and off. It’s the reason I moved here, and it’s the reason I stay.”
Ethan is clearly besotted with the city and never tires of exploring it. So, how would he introduce it to a friend who has never been here before? The object being, of course, to have the "Best Day Ever" in New York.
“We could spend a day walking from Brooklyn to Manhattan (over the Brooklyn or Williamsburg bridges), stop at the Strand [bookstore] to buy a book, and over to the Village for a bite to eat," said Slater. "Or, we could go to a coffee shop, get something delicious, sit and just catch up. Perhaps we’d bike in Prospect Park, take pictures at Grand Army Plaza, and then try to catch a movie or show at BAM [Brooklyn Academy of Music]. Or, if the day is long enough, all of the above! But without a doubt, throughout the day we would find good spots to eat.”
Since an appreciation of food is something Ethan and SpongeBob, a fry cook at Bikini Bottom’s popular Krusty Krab fast-food restaurant, share we asked Ethan what foods SpongeBob would eat in NYC.
“I think SpongeBob would love to take a walk over the Brooklyn Bridge, maybe grab a burger at Emily Loves Pizza in the Cobble Hill area. Or, if he were to stay in Manhattan, bring a picnic (of Lucky Burgers, perhaps) to one of the beautiful riverside parks, take a boat tour. Blow some bubbles.” And shop for souvenirs for all his friends, including Sandy Cheeks, Squidward Q. Tentacles and Patrick Star. “Definitely I Heart NYC T-shirts for all. And if SpongeBob visited in winter, an NYC snow globe for Sandy.”
Like SpongeBob, Ethan can say he’s a lucky guy living his dream. But is that the only thing they have in common? “I’d like to say my optimism, but probably my square shoulders,” Ethan says. And the least SpongeBob characteristic? “I’m not a sponge!”
Literally, perhaps. But the fact is, Ethan Slater is soaking up all the adulation. Since it’s never too early to talk Tony Awards, we predict a nomination for Best Actor in a Musical in the spring 2018. And that would be the icing on the cake (food, again) of an unforgettable Broadway debut.
KEEPING FIT FOR BROADWAY
Critics and audiences alike recognize Ethan Slater’s “limber-limbed” and “lively” physicality onstage. How does he do it, especially that scene in the second act when as hero SpongeBob he chops his way to the top of a mountain to save Bikini Bottom from destruction? Here, the former high-school wrestler takes us through his fitness regimen. One thing’s for certain: Making it look easy onstage requires hard work.
“In the months leading up to our rehearsals, I was at the gym six days a week. I worked on cardio fitness, extensively, and body weight strength. I knew I didn’t want to put on mass, but I wanted to be strong enough to do whatever it was I needed to do. So, a lot of core."
“The biggest part, though, was that I stuck to it. For six-plus months I didn’t relent. If I was out of town, I went for a run. And now that we are on Broadway, I get my workout in eight shows a week. So, I only go to the gym three or four times. I want to stay stronger than the show, but not exhaust myself before a performance, and I have to say I feel like it has paid off. I am feeling great doing this show day after day, and feel as motivated as ever. Plus, I love performing as SpongeBob and look forward to going to work every day, so that always helps.”