Cody Cooley, formerly of Sykesville, performs "I'm Not a Loser" as Squidward in "The SpongeBob Musical."
Cody Cooley, formerly of Sykesville, performs "I'm Not a Loser" as Squidward in "The SpongeBob Musical." (Jeremy Daniel / HANDOUT)

Squidward Q. Tentacles, the four-legged, tap-dancing, clarinet-playing, grouchy next-door neighbor of SpongeBob SquarePants, is being played by Century High School alum Cody Cooley in the first national tour of Broadway’s “The SpongeBob Musical.”

A Sykesville native, Cooley knew he wanted to pursue theater from a young age. He started tap dancing at 3 years old and studied at Savage Dance Company in Eldersburg for a number of years.

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“I knew when I was 5. I was like, this is what I’m going to do. So it’s just been a matter of how and when," said Cooley, who graduated from Century in 2012.

“The SpongeBob Musical” concluded on Broadway in September 2018, then the show was adapted for the national tour, Cooley said. The touring cast debuted in Schenectady, New York, on Sept. 22 and is scheduled to conclude touring on July 26, 2020 in Tampa, Florida, according to the show’s website.

Cooley was working in Arizona when he heard “The SpongeBob Musical” was looking for a Squidward. He sent in his material, didn’t hear back, and thought that was it, he said. Then when he returned home to New York in May, Cooley learned the show had an opening, so he applied again. This time, he was called in to perform live.

“To be honest, that audition was the best I’ve ever auditioned," Cooley said. “I felt like I had the role.”

And he did.

One of Cooley’s strengths is tap dancing, and Squidward has a 7-to-8-minute tap number in the show, Cooley said.

“I get to perform with four legs instead of two," he said. “I have two fake legs attached to me, which is interesting.”

Cody Cooley, formerly of Sykesville, is starring in the national tour of "The SpongeBob Musical" as Squidward Q. Tentacles. (Courtesy Photo)
Cody Cooley, formerly of Sykesville, is starring in the national tour of "The SpongeBob Musical" as Squidward Q. Tentacles. (Courtesy Photo) (Courtesy Photo / HANDOUT)

In the show, the citizens have to cope with what is essentially the end of the world for Bikini Bottom — the town where SpongeBob and his friends live.

“All of the characters have to deal with the impending doom in their own way and what Squidward is tasked with is to create a concert to raise money to help the citizens of Bikini Bottom out of Bikini Bottom so they get to safety," Cooley said.

Cooley’s favorite part of the show comes in the second half.

“In Act 2, Squidward gets to do a huge, big tap number that finally realizes he’s this amazing Broadway performer and no one has seen it in him, but he has to bring it out himself and it’s amazing. I mean, everyone can relate to that as being like, oh, nobody sees my talent or sees my worth, and then it just happens," Cooley said.

While Cooley already had the dancing and singing down pat, he did have to learn a little bit of clarinet for the show. Squidward is known on the television show for playing clarinet, and the musical is no different. Cooley said the ensemble provides the sounds for Squidward’s instrument of choice most of the show, but Cooley does have to play the clarinet for real at the end of the production.

This year also marks the 20th anniversary of the “SpongeBob SquarePants” television show, which makes the tour especially fun for the cast, Cooley said.

‘Just go for it’

Cooley’s journey to stardom began with an enthusiasm for the arts. He said he was in “everything” Century High School had to offer. He played the Scarecrow in “The Wizard of Oz,” Caractacus Pott in “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang," and Lionel in “Cinderella,” Cooley said, with “The Wizard of Oz” being his favorite.

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The company of "The SpongeBob Musical," including Cody Cooley as Squidward, perform "Tomorrow Is."
The company of "The SpongeBob Musical," including Cody Cooley as Squidward, perform "Tomorrow Is." (Jeremy Daniel / HANDOUT)

After high school, Cooley enrolled in the acting program at Rider University in New Jersey, then moved to Manhattan to find work.

“I’ve counted myself lucky to work primarily in the business for years and ever since I graduated, as well. I count myself really lucky because that’s not common in the business,” Cooley said.

He has starred in “Guys and Dolls” on Arizona Broadway Theatre, “Grease” in Prather Productions, “Crazy For You” at Post Playhouse, “Shrek The Musical” at Forestburgh Playhouse, “Wizard of Oz” at Toby’s Dinner Theatre, and “Metamorphoses” at Rider University, according to his cast bio.

For young, aspiring actors starting out in small towns like Cooley once did, he has this advice: "I would say just go for it. Honestly, because why say that you could’ve when you just should.”

Cooley said he wished he knew earlier in his career that success takes time.

“People are successful before you. People are successful after you," he said. “Everyone has their moment and their time to be in the limelight or to gain success or to gain traction, whatever they’re doing."

For those who want to watch Cooley on stage as Squidward, tour dates and tickets are available online at thespongebobmusical.com. Nearest to Carroll County are shows at Forrest Theatre in Philadelphia, Dec. 3 to 15, and at the State Theatre in New Brunswick, New Jersey, Nov. 29 to Dec. 1.

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