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From Scranton to ‘SpongeBob’: Meet the UArts grad who stars in the Broadway Philly show

Also in this week's 'Theater Beat': Another first for Truman High School and a STEM show from Applied Mechanics and Philadelphia Young Playwrights.

Lorenzo Pugliese (center) is SpongeBob Square Pants in "SpongeBob The Musical." Daria Pilar Redus (left) plays Sandy Cheeks and Beau Bradshaw is Patrick Star.
Lorenzo Pugliese (center) is SpongeBob Square Pants in "SpongeBob The Musical." Daria Pilar Redus (left) plays Sandy Cheeks and Beau Bradshaw is Patrick Star.Read moreJeremy Daniel

Jane M. Von Bergen’s Theater Beat column rounds up news and notes from the Philadelphia region’s theater scene.

As a youngster growing up in Scranton, Lorenzo Pugliese said he’d often wake up, open his window, and shout to his neighbors, SpongeBob-style, “ ‘Good morning, world, and all who inhabit it.’

“And now that’s my first line in the play.”

Pugliese, a 22-year-old University of the Arts grad, plays the role of the happy yellow sponge in the upcoming Broadway Philadelphia production of The SpongeBob Musical (Dec. 3-15 at the Forrest Theatre).

Being SpongeBob onstage is like earning an advanced degree in looking on the bright side. “I admire his optimism, his ability to take any situation and look at it through a lens that isn’t negative,” Pugliese says. “I don’t think that’s wildly unrealistic, either."

SpongeBob “has a special way of turning things into something good,” he says. "It kind of rubs off on you.”

» READ MORE: Meet the woman who books the shows for the Kimmel Center's Broadway Philadelphia series

Inspired by the long-running Nickelodeon TV program, the 2018 Tony Award-winning musical includes a pop and rock score written by John Legend, The Flaming Lips, Sara Bareilles, and Aerosmith’s Joe Perry, among others.

SpongeBob and his fellow Bikini Bottom-dwellers aren’t dressed as cartoon characters for the show — or treated that way, thanks to director Tina Landau, Pugliese says. “She’s intent on bringing truth and humanity to the characters."

Pugliese had returned to Scranton after graduating with his UArts major in musical theater, and the call to join the SpongeBob touring company was “a dream come true," he says.

"I never would have thought a couple of months out of school that this is what I would be doing.”

'Kinky Boots’ in Bucks

Harry S. Truman High School, with its bang-up theater department, is about to perform the first-ever high school production of Kinky Boots, Dec. 5, 6, and 7 at the Levittown school’s Lou Volpe Auditorium, named after Truman’s dynamic drama teacher, now retired.

» READ MORE: Levittown's Lou Volpe, inspiration for NBC's 'Rise,' will be honored at Bucks County Playhouse

This is the school’s fourth high school pilot since it staged the first high school version of Les Misérables in 2001. Coming to see it will be executives from Music Theatre International and Broadway Media Distribution, both involved in licensing Kinky Boots, as well as members of the creative team from the Broadway production.

Truman’s theater program was the subject of the 2013 book Drama High: The Incredible True Story of a Brilliant Teacher, a Struggling Town and the Magic of Theater, by Michael Sokolove, a former Daily News and Philadelphia Inquirer reporter. His book and Truman’s theater program also inspired the television series Rise.

See it soon

The Last Match, served up by Lantern Theatre Co., finishes its run at St. Stephen’s Theater on Dec. 15.

The play involves a tennis match — Russia vs. the U.S. — and also a match between the past and the present. The question here: What does it take to stay a champion?