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The Secret to SpongeBob’s 20-Year Success? Relentless Optimism

Two decades after the birth of “SpongeBob SquarePants,” the gang’s adventures in Bikini Bottom are once again reaching new audiences through a televised special with Broadway flair. 

“The SpongeBob Musical: Live On Stage!” debuts on Dec. 7 and tells the story of SpongeBob and his friends as they navigate what could very well be the end of the world. 

“We’re going to reach a whole new audience!” actor Ethan Slater, who plays SpongeBob, told InsideEdition.com. “It feels really special.”

The beloved Nickelodeon show was turned into a hit Broadway musical in 2016 and went on to earn 12 Tony Award nominations— including one for Slater— before ending its run a little over a year ago. Now, the musical is getting a new life on television and the opportunity to be seen by millions who might have missed the performance at New York City’s Palace Theatre.

Most of the original Broadway cast are reprising their roles in this new reincarnation, including Danny Skinner, who plays Patrick.

“It's like a joy factory,” Skinner told InsideEdition.com of reuniting with his former castmates. “When we closed that last performance … [It was] like, ‘Oh man, I'm never going to get to be with this group of people again.’ But then this came along and it’s just the best thing.” 

Gavin Lee plays a tap-dancing, show-stopping Squidward. He said the message behind the show is “very much about everyone is equal and everyone has a right to be here.”

"The Best Job in Show Business"

Tom Kenny, who voices the animated SpongeBob on TV, is also making a cameo in the live production as Patchy the Pirate.

“I have the best job in show business,” Kenny told InsideEdition.com. “I wouldn’t trade places with the biggest movie star.”

Kenny’s upbeat attitude may shed light on just what has made SpongeBob so popular for so long. The original TV show, created by animator Stephen Hillenburg, centers on its title character’s life with his pet snail in a pineapple under the sea. It premiered on Nickelodeon in May 1999 and is now the fifth-longest running American animated series. 

Hillenburg and Kenny had worked together on another hit Nickelodeon show, “Rocko’s Modern Life,” where Kenny had voiced Heffer.

“He and I just clicked,” Kenny said of Hillenburg. “Steve had this weird little idea about a sponge that works in a fast food restaurant and asked me if I would be interested in voicing the lead character. I loved it! I immediately told him right then and there, ‘If anybody else plays this character, if I turn on my TV and the person that's not me is doing the voice, I'll be sad for the rest of my life.’"

Kenny said that his portrayal of SpongeBob came directly from Hillenburg, including “the optimism, the humorousness, the brand of humor, the style of comedy.” 

“It's one of those rare times where I could totally see the finished product the way he described it,” Kenny said.

How did Kenny find SpongeBob’s iconic voice?  It was a process, he explained.

“Steve was not somebody who would put his thumb on the scale and just tell you, ‘Hey, do this. I want you to sound like this,’" Kenny said. "He described what the character's inner workings were. It sounds really pretentious when you're talking about a yellow sponge that wears a necktie, but he said, ‘He's half a child and half a grown-up. He goes to boating school and sometimes he and his best friend, Patrick, hold hands and skip around like 4-year-olds."

With that direction, Kenny crafted SpongeBob’s signature voice, which is now instantly recognizable by fans around the world. 

"Eternally Relevant"

SpongeBob’s incredible positivity has also had an impact on everyone who plays him. 

“What I learned from SpongeBob is to approach life with energy, optimism and just 110 percent effort,” Kenny said. 

Slater, who crafted his own version of the character for Broadway, agreed. 

“I feel SpongeBob is eternally relevant: the way that he’s able to see the world as its best self, no matter the circumstance," Slater said. "I think SpongeBob embodies that we can always make our worlds better."

Hillenburg passed away last November at the age of 57 after battling ALS. But his legacy continues to flourish through his characters. 

In February, SpongeBob made an appearance at the Super Bowl Halftime Show after more than a million fans signed a petition to make the show’s rendition of “Sweet Victory” part of the performance. SpongeBob’s cameo came right between Maroon 5 and Travis Scott, and a video of the special moment quickly went viral.

Special edition, SpongeBob-themed Nike sneakers designed in collaboration with Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving were also a huge hit. “They really went all out,” shoe reviewer Seth Fowler told InsideEdition.com. The shoes were in such high demand that they sold out immediately. 

In honor of the show’s 20th anniversary this fall, fans had the chance to visit a life-size pineapple under the sea as part of an immersive experience in Los Angeles. Visitors were able to participate in a scavenger hunt, obstacle courses and photo-ops.

SpongeBob is also kicking off his third decade with a third movie. “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run” includes characters voiced by Snoop Dogg, Keanu Reeves and Awkwafina in addition to all of the beloved regulars. 

In so many ways, Hillenburg’s characters continue to bring so much love and comedy to so many people.

“This show shows community, friendship and how we can all work together,” Skinner said. “Bad things happen, but we have each other and we can make this the best day ever if we choose to.”

“The SpongeBob Musical: Live On Stage!” will air on Nickelodeon, Nicktoons and Teen Nick simultaneously on Dec. 7 at 7:00 p.m ET. 

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