Elise Bakketun/courtesy Seattle Children's Theatre
Tell yourself you’re buying tickets to “Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed: The Rock Experience” for the kids, but really, the grown-ups are in for a huge treat too. Caldecott winner and beloved author Mo Willems adapted his book, "Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed," for the stage, writing the script and lyrics. Both are filled with his trademark goofiness and plenty of zingers aimed at adults.
"Naked Mole Rat" is making its world premiere at Seattle Children's Theatre, and Willems attended the show’s opening night, March 23. He walked on stage wearing bright red glasses, bright red shoes and a long mole rat tail poking out his backside. “If you see something funny — laugh!” Willems told the audience. The audience did more than that. By the end of the show, everyone was on their feet dancing and clapping.
If you have preschoolers or elementary-age kids, there’s a good chance Elephant and Piggie, Knuffle Bunny and the Pigeon are beloved storytime friends. Naked Mole Rat is one of Willems’ standalone book characters, and the show is packed with his signature wit.
The story: Wilbur, a naked mole rat, decides that he wants to wear clothes, “just a simple business casual ensemble.” The other mole rats — Tall, Venti and Grande — are appalled. They stage an intervention to convince Wilbur that naked mole rats should be… well, naked. Grand-Pah mole rat surprises everyone when he issues a proclamation about Wilbur’s fashion aspirations.
The show opens with the mole rats belting out, “Naked! Naked!” This sort-of naughty word is funny to kids, and there are other witticisms youngsters won’t pick up on. Grand-Pah (Greg McCormick Allen) dozes off mid-sentence, and startles awake with, “No more for me! I’m driving!”
This is the one kids’ show I'd gladly buy the soundtrack for because the lyrics are worth listening to again and again. Who else but Mo Willems would work “epidermis” and “moisturizer” into a song? Another great line: “We cannot handle/Such a scandal/What, did you say sandals?”
Willems spent the days before opening night fine-tuning the show with the cast. One of the best laughs was added in last-minute: Venti Mole Rat (Duncan Frost) muses, “So then, tailors are not just for our tails?”
The SCT production has the pizzazz of a Broadway show, and it’s the only place you’ll ever see naked mole rats doing a jazzy tap-dance number. There’s a naked mole rat opera, naked mole rat fashion show, naked mole rat news alert on CNN (the “Constantly Naked Network”)...
After the show, I overheard a woman say, “You know, honestly, I would like to see any show done in ‘Naked Mole Rat.’” I’d second that!
A rock concert parody, led by a four-piece live rock band, “The Flesh Tones,” opens the show. The volume startled my 6-year-old, but then he got used to it. My 2-year-old started to wail and so into the cry room he went, where he stayed and enjoyed a muted version of the show. There is a sensory-friendly showing if your kids don’t like loud noises.
The actors do a great job of engaging the whole audience. After strutting through an onstage fashion show, they wander the aisles critiquing audience members’ couture: “This bright blue zip-up thing! This pink rain jacket! This grownup is wearing a bunch of really unfashionable clothing, but somehow making it work!” The show is about celebrating individualism and being different, but never gets preachy about that lesson.
At the post-performance reception, I asked Richard Gray, the actor who plays Wilbur, what kids should know about the show. He wanted kids to think of a time when they tried something, even if it made them nervous. “It’s a simple message,” Gray says. “Just be who you are. And take a risk.”
The bottom line: Approximately all of my first-grader’s classmates love Mo Willems. “Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed” is a like a party for kids, and incredibly fun for adults too. It has great energy!
Age recommendation: SCT recommends the show for ages 5 and up, and anyone up to age 100 will laugh non-stop through this show.
Run time: One hour, no intermission.
If you go...
When: “Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed: The Rock Experience” plays Thursday–Sunday, through May 13.
Where: Seattle Children's Theatre at Seattle Center, 201 Thomas St., Seattle
Cost: Tickets are $25–$45 (go on a Thursday for the $25 rate). Buy tickets online, or pay in cash at the box office to avoid the $4 processing fee.
Parking: Try street parking or one of the surface lots in the neighborhood. The theater is most easily accessed from the west side of Seattle Center.
Nearby fun: Go see an actual naked mole rat colony at the Pacific Science Center! Tip: there's even a naked mole rat cam where you can check them out any time. Check out ParentMap’s guide to Seattle Center and don't miss the fantastic Artists at Play playground on the east side of the Armory.