Photo by Karen Nazor Hill / Evie, William and Tilleigh Nazor, from left, at a recent production of "The SpongeBob Musical" in Nashville.

It's not every day that you get to meet your hero. But that happened recently in our family when my daughter and her three children and I headed to Nashville to see SpongeBob SquarePants in real life.

Yes, the lovable animated character and his colorful friends came to life onstage at Andrew Jackson Hall in Nickelodeon's "The SpongeBob Musical," a Broadway award-winning production.

My grandchildren William, 7, Tilleigh, 12, and Evie, 9, as well as my daughter, Kacee, and I were hooked. The ultra-talented cast, the set and costumes, and the message of the production — accepting people regardless of their background or color and that we can live together in peace and harmony — was a much-welcomed lesson in today's world, a message my grandchildren completely comprehended.

SpongeBob's biggest fan is my grandson, William. The rest of us are fans, too, just not as dedicated as William, who, one could say, lives and breathes SpongeBob. We own all 12 seasons of the TV show, and most of us, including my husband, can recite lines from specific episodes, and, of course, we all know the show's theme song.

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Photo by Karen Nazor Hill / William and Evie Nazor with Lorenzo Pugliese, who stars as SpongeBob in "The SpongeBob Musical."

"The SpongeBob Musical" is based on the series by the late Stephen Hillenburg.

If you're not familiar with SpongeBob, he's a sweet and silly yellow sponge character who lives in Bikini Bottom, a community under the sea, with a cast of characters including his best friend, Patrick, a starfish; Squidward, an octopus; and Mr. Krabs, a crab.

The musical made the show's fictional characters realistic in human form. Instead of wearing body-covering costumes to portray the characters, the actors instead brought the characters to life in the human form wearing costumes similar to the show's animated characters' clothing. And it worked beautifully.

My grandson knows all the songs on the TV show and was introduced to some new ones at the musical (Kacee has since bought him the musical's soundtrack). The music was superb, with songs from artists including Steven Tyler, The Flaming Lips, Lady Antebellum, Cyndi Lauper, John Legend, They Might Be Giants, David Bowie and Brian Eno. The music was incredible.

The highlight, though, was watching the children's faces, particularly William's, during the show. He was as happy as happy gets. Sometimes, when he recognized a song, such as "Best Day Ever," he sang along with the characters. I might have been singing, too.

Our family supports William's love of "SpongeBob" because, No. 1, it's a good show. He's not addicted to the show in the sense it's all he wants to do. All my grandchildren love the outdoors and are outside as much as possible. They're all swimmers, with Evie and William being year-round swimmers, and Tilleigh is on a climbing team at school, while William and Evie also play soccer.

Kacee and the kids camp often in the summer where they kayak, stand-up paddleboard and kayak.

But when there's down time, it's "SpongeBob" (though we do monitor TV and iPad time).

Sometimes, at my house, when we're watching"SpongeBob" and the kids go home (they live next door), it takes a while for me to notice I'm watching "SpongeBob" by myself. Oops.

I grew up in a household where Gene Autry, my late father's childhood hero, was adored by my father. I grew up listening to his music, watching his black-and-white movies and hearing tales of how my father would spend the money he earned selling newspapers going to a Gene Autry movie — the same one —multiple times.

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Photo by Karen Nazor Hill / Tilleigh Nazor meets Beau Bradshaw, who portrays Patrick in "The SpongeBob Musical."

I was equally as devoted to The Beatles. In 1964, my father and I stood in line for a couple hours to buy the "Meet the Beatles," album, only to learn it had sold out by the time we got to the front of the line. My father took me all over Chattanooga looking for one, to no avail. And, yes, I cried, despite being 12. So Daddy bought me a Beatles wig instead. I still have it, and I eventually got the album, which today is framed and hanging on my dining room wall.

Like my father and William, I understand what it's like to be a devoted fan.

After "The SpongeBob Musical" ended, Tilleigh, who has been acting in local plays since she was 5, wanted to hang out by the outside stage door entrance to hopefully meet some of the actors. Though it was late (10 p.m.) and we had a two-hour drive home, we, along with about 100 other fans, waited. We weren't disappointed.

My grandchildren got autographs and photos with Lorenzo Pugliese (SpongeBob), Beau Bradshaw (Patrick) and Cody Cooley (Squidward). Kacee and I were as excited as the kids.

We didn't get home until around 2 a.m., but the travel, the expense, the time was worth it. The children were grateful for the opportunity, and they made memories they'll never forget. As William later announced, it was the best day ever.

Email Karen Nazor Hill at