Mole Rats Take the Stage

Mo Willems’ popular book Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed is transformed into a fun, lively musical by Oregon Children’s Theatre.
By Denise Castañon

Okay, let’s get it out of the way. There’s no actual nudity in Oregon Children’s Theatre production of Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed: The Rock Experience. What there is, is a charming story about embracing individuality – even in the face of naysaying friends.

I took my son Cruz, who is just about to turn 4, to the show. For those who have not read the delightful Mo Willems book the musical is based on, Wilbur is a plain old naked mole rat in a colony until one day he finds a hat in his tunnel and tries it on. Soon more articles of clothing start appearing, and Wilbur discovers he likes getting dressed. But the other mole rats consider it scandalous. They run it up the ladder to Grand-Pah, the revered leader of the colony, who renders a surprising judgement call.

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The OCT version injects rock music and even more humor to the story. And more conflict, which may be harder for sensitive littles to handle. Cruz didn’t smile too much when the mole rats Tall, Grande and Venti started making Wilbur feel bad about his choice to wear clothes. And a lot of the humor in the dialogue was over his head. He didn’t get the clever jokes about a mole rat’s birthday suit or that The Gap is a weird name for a clothing store for example. (However, I did note a lot of parents were laughing the entire time.) Spoiler alert: Luckily when Grand-Pah came out wearing a turquoise pinstripe jacket and matching boater hat and all the mole rats put on a fashion show, Cruz breathed a sigh of relief and started laughing along.

The short 60-minute length of the production was just right for Cruz. In fact I have to give OCT a nod for really knowing when kids would start to get antsy and brilliantly inserting a change of pace. About two-thirds of the way through the show, Cruz and some of the preschool-aged kids sitting around us started to get squirmy. Some even started talking. Loudly. And right at that time, a storm of socks started raining down on the stage. It brought everyone’s attention right back to front and center.

The young castmates Martin Hernandez as Wilbur, Aida Valentine as Grande, Julia Meyers as Tall, and Marcelino Hernandez as Venti were a delight, singing and dancing nonstop. It was quite exciting when they came into the audience to highlight some of the spectacular sartorial choices of young audience members. And they were incredibly nice asking Cruz questions as we got autographs after the show.

Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed: The Rock Experience runs until February 17 at the Newmark Theatre.

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Denise Castañon
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