Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed: The Rock Experience, based on the book Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed by Mo Willems, will rock your children’s worlds. The musical, with script and lyrics by Mo Willems, music by Deborah Wicks La Puma, and direction by Kathryn Chase Bryer, is absurd and yet poignant.
The audience is launched into the naked mole rat world (or tunnel, rather), where rock ‘n’ roll (and, um, nudity) is their way of life. For those who don’t know, naked mole rats are called this because of their lack of fur or hair, giving the appearance of being naked. This musical flips the script; while we humans would be mortified at someone who decided to walk around naked, main character Wilbur (played with pizzazz and affability by Harrison Smith) shocks his colony when he decides to do something radical: he puts on clothes!
The opening number features a group of naked mole rats (whom we’ll come to know as Grande, Venti, and Tall) seeming like a neighborhood garage band — er, tunnel band — playing their “Morning Song.” They realize the fourth member of their crew, Wilbur, is missing.
The show is interspersed with faux news and weather updates from “CNN,” which in this musical stands for Constantly Naked News. The entertaining Russel Rinker delivers some hilarious lines that were clearly and purposely aimed right over the heads of the younger audience members and straight at the adults.
We meet the elusive Wilbur, who will become your child’s favorite character, as he sings, “Is It Time to Get Dressed?,” a power ballad where we learn that Wilbur is ready to try something new and bring some change into his life. Smith’s belting was powerful and impressive during this number and throughout the musical.
Other numbers that rounded out the first act included “Scandal,” a dark, metal-rock piece where it becomes clear that it’s not easy to go against the norm, and “Hats & More,” a rockabilly-style dance number that included some fun dancing and choreography by Tony Thomas. The song reminded me of a cross between “Stray Cat Strut” and “Puttin’ On the Ritz.” Alana Thomas as Grande, Steven Gondre-Lewis as Venti, and Kathryn Zoerb as Tall all gave memorable performances as Wilbur’s friends who struggle to accept his newfound affinity for clothing.
After intermission, the tension mounts as Grande, Venti, and Tall decide to summon the leader of the naked mole rat colony, Grand-Pah (also played with great comedy by Rinker), to weigh in on the drama. After a delightful introduction by his secret service agent, played by Caroline Dubberly, who has a lovely voice, we meet Grand-Pah, who decides he will issue a proclamation to the entire colony about Wilbur. The special effects during the song “Proclamation” are cool, and my son eagerly whispered, “Mom, look!” as various items of clothing fell from the sky onto the stage. Hat tip to Props Designer Dre Moore and Scenic Designer Mollie Singer for the wow factor.
It is in this second act that we see Wilbur wrestle with his internal struggle: Should he play it safe, be like everyone else, and take off his clothes? Or should he stay strong and true to himself? The final number of the musical teaches us that as long as we’re not hurting anyone else, we might as well be ourselves; the rest of our community will be better, cooler, and more rockin’ as a result!
Running Time: 60 minutes, with no intermission according to the website (although at the performance reviewed, there was a 15-minute intermission).
Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed: The Rock Experience plays through January 8, 2023, at Imagination Stage–4908 Auburn Ave in Bethesda, MD. For tickets ($25–$39), call the box office at (301) 280-1660, or purchase them online.
Best for ages 4 to 10.
The program for Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed: The Rock Experience is online here.
COVID Safety: Audience members (age 2 and up) are required to wear masks while in the theater. See complete Health and Safety Precautions here.
Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed: The Rock Experience
Based on the book Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed by Mo Willems
Published by Hyperion Books for Children
Script and Lyrics by Mo Willems
Music by Deborah Wicks la Puma
Directed by Kathryn Chase Bryer
Music Direction by Deborah Jacobson; Costume Design by Eric Abele; Lighting Design by Max Doolittle; Sound Design by Justin Schmitz; Assistant Props Design by GE Burgtorf; Stage Management by Samantha Leahan.