“Chock-full of family fun… Niemi’s exuberance as clothes-loving Wilbur is infectious” –Make It Better
“Kauzlaric’s expansion is really strong… the play communicates the difficulty and triumph of choosing acceptance over repudiation” –Time Out Chicago Kids
Unlike other naked mole rats, young Wilbur loves to wear clothes. By daring to defy social tradition, Wilbur makes life miserable for himself and his best friend. When the teasing and bullying at school get out of control, the pups take their case before Grand-pah: the greatest, wisest, and most naked naked mole rat ever. Will Grand-pah crush Wilbur’s self-expression, or open the door of acceptance to a misunderstood outsider? A heartwarming lesson on tolerance, in a world premiere musical adaptation for the whole family.Recommended for kids 5 and up. Children under 2 are not permitted.Based on the 2009 book by New York Times bestselling author Mo Willems (Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale, Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!) Adapted by Robert Kauzlaric, Music by Paul Gilvary Directed by Paul S. Holmquist
Excerpt from Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed. Music by Paul Gilvary
Morgan Maher (Beauregard)
Morgan is thrilled to be performing with the folks at Lifeline Theatre again, after understudying for The 13 Clocks. Around town, he’s worked with the Griffin, American Theater Company, Collaboraction, Mary Archie, New Leaf, Steppenwolf, Dog + Pony, Awkward Pawz, and the Inconvenience, among others.
Nathaniel Niemi (Wilbur)
Nathaniel is thrilled to be back at Lifeline after playing Jack in How to Survive a Fairy Tale and Duck in Dooby Dooby Moo. Other recent credits include Phillipe in The Baker’s Wife at Circle Theatre and Jack in Into the Woods at Quest Theatre Ensemble. Other favorite roles include Pirelli in Sweeney Todd, Dewey in The Diviners, and Mortimer in The Fantasticks. Nathaniel is also a clown and performs in various revues around Chicago.
Mike Ooi (Mr. Cleary, Grand-pah)
Mike is pleased to return to Lifeline after appearing in The 13 Clocks, The Last of the Dragons, Neverwhere, and The Mark of Zorro. Other Chicago credits include Black & Blue, 1985, and Mop Top Festival (Factory Theater); Sinbad: The Untold Tale and Ghosts of Treasure Island(Adventure Stage); Three Penny Opera (The Hypocrites at Steppenwolf Garage); Old Town (Strawdog Theatre); Curse of the Crying Heart and Cave with Man (House Theatre of Chicago). Mike has worked as a stage manager and in other aspects for Lifeline, The House Theatre, The Hypocrites, and The GameShowShow and Stuff, and he is the Operations Manager for the Factory Theater, where he is also a company member.
Ellie Reed (Esther)
Ellie is thrilled to be making her debut at Lifeline! She has also worked with Griffin Theatre (Letters Home, No More Dead Dogs) and Buzz22 Chicago (Quake, Hooters: A Play), a theatre company of which she is a founding member. A proud graduate of Northwestern University, the Conservatory Program at Second City and the training program at iO, you can also see her improvise all over town.
Julia Stemper (Rhonda)
Julia is excited to be working with Lifeline for the first time. In Chicago she has worked with First Folio (Romeo and Juliet) and Red Tape Productions (Fresh Eyes Project). Favorite regional credits include Alice in Wonderlandwith Classika Theater (Queen of Hearts), Captain Squishy’s Yee-Haw Jamboree with I Like Nuts (Daisy), and The Drunkard with Solas Nua(Arabella). International credits include Twelfth Night (Viola) at Globe Theatre in London and Heuristics in the Diner (Mae) at Tron Theatre in Glasgow. Julia will next be seen as Titania in Stone Soup Shakespeare’s tour of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Victoria Abram-Copenhaver (Understudy)
Victoria is excited to be working with Lifeline Theatre once again! Recent Chicago credits include Camp Super Friend and The Wizard of Oz with Provision Theatre; Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch with Lifeline Theatre; Doo Lister’s Blues with National Pastime Theatre; The Better Doctor with Bootstrap Theatre Company; Messiah on the Frigidaire with Hubris Productions; and Gossamer with Adventure Stage Chicago. Victoria has also performed in several readings: Remembering Ricci and Easy On The Eyes with the Pride Film festival, and City of Ember with Adventure Stage Chicago.
Timothy Cahill (Understudy)
This is Timothy’s third production with Lifeline Theatre. He previously served as the understudy for Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch and Arnie The Doughnut. He has recently been seen in Chicago with Theatre-Hike’s productions of The Hobbit and Work Song, and with the Gilbert and Sullivan Opera Company’s production of The Mikado. He has also performed with the Great River Shakespeare Company in Winona, Minnesota.
Christopher Leck (Understudy)
Christopher is thrilled to be making his Lifeline debut with Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed. He was last seen in Seven Doors with Premiere Theatre and Performance and tours Chicagoland with King David: LIVE!, an interactive musical for young audiences. Christopher graduated from Northwestern University where his favorite credits include Edward Albee’s The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?; Godspell; Macbeth; Noises Off; and Parade.
Robert Kauzlaric (Adaptor)
Robert is a proud member of Lifeline’s artistic ensemble. He has written twelve theatrical adaptations which have been produced in eighteen U.S. states, as well as in Ireland, England, and Canada. For Lifeline, he adapted the MainStage productions of The Island of Dr. Moreau (Non-Equity Jeff Awards: Best Production-Play and New Adaptation; published by Playscripts, Inc.), The Picture of Dorian Gray (published by Playscripts, Inc.), Neverwhere(Non-Equity Jeff Award: New Adaptation), and The Moonstone; and the KidSeries productions of The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs!, Flight of the Dodo, and The 13 Clocks. Robert has also appeared as an actor in fifteen productions on the Lifeline stage, and directed Treasure Island and Hunger.
Paul Gilvary (Composer, Musical Director)
Paul’s history of composing for Lifeline Theatre began in 2000 with Mrs. Piggle Wiggle. Since then, Paul has written music for Puss in Boots, Bongo Larry and Two Bad Bears, The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs!, Crossing California, and Cat’s Cradle. Paul has also written music for Tellin’ Tales Theater, Silent Theater, Polarity Theater, and he has played bass in several productions for Strawdog Theater. By day, Paul teaches music at Oriole Park School here in Chicago. By night, he has played in too many bands to list, but he currently plays bass with The Sun Blisters, a Violent Femmes tribute band.
Paul S. Holmquist (Director)
Paul has been a Lifeline ensemble member since 2006. Directing credits for Lifeline’s KidSeries include Flight of the Dodo and Rikki-Tikki-Tavi. For Lifeline’s MainStage, he has directed The Count of Monte Cristo, The Moonstone, Neverwhere, Busman’s Honeymoon, and The Island of Dr. Moreau (Non-Equity Jeff Award Nomination: Director-Play). Paul is a graduate of the BFA Acting program of The Theatre School at DePaul University and holds a Graduate Laban CMA from Columbia College Chicago, where he teaches and works.
Jeri Frederickson (Stage Manager)
Jeri is proud to be working with Lifeline Theatre again after subbing on The Count of Monte Cristo this past Fall. She is a proud member of Seanachaí Theatre, where she is dramaturging for A Moon for the Misbegotten this season. Recent credits include: Assistant Director and Dramaturg for The Shadow of a Gunman (Seanachaí), AD and Dramaturg for Romeo and Juliet (First Folio), and Director as part of the Cut to the Chase Festival at Artistic Home. Stage management credits include St. Nicholas (SEP), Blithe Spirit (First Folio), The Chicago Landmark Project and The Water Engine (Theatre Seven). She graduated with a B.A. in Theatre and Writing from Hope College.
Michael James Brooks (Sound Designer)
Michael is thrilled to be making his Chicago sound design debut at Lifeline Theatre. Michael studied theatre in Grand Rapids, MI, where his credits included original music for the Actors’ Theatre World Premiere of Seven Passages, as well as The Tempest, Elizabeth Rex, and Sense and Sensibility. He received a Kennedy Center Achievement Award for his original score of the US Premiere of Disciples by Hungarian National Playwright Andras Visky. His onstage appearances have included leading roles in A New Brain, A Funny Thing… Forum, Bach at Leipzig, and the title role in Richard III. For over six years, Michael has also been making music with his indie-pop band, Common Shiner.
Kristina Fluty (Choreographer)
Kristina is a long-time movement collaborator with Molly Shanahan/Mad Shak, and has been honored to work with many other talented choreographers in Chicago, Nashville, and New York. She holds a Master of Arts in Dance/Movement Therapy and Counseling, as well as a Graduate Laban Certificate in Movement Analysis (GLCMA), from Columbia College Chicago, where she is an adjunct faculty member. Her BA in Dance is from Point Park University in Pittsburgh, PA, where she frequently returns to teach and choreograph. She spent six years on faculty at The University of Chicago, and teaches regularly throughout the city for many professional companies and studios. Kristina currently works with individual professional artists and dance companies in Chicago in the facilitation, support, and research of personal creative process.
Cortney Hurley (Production Manager)
Cortney is happy to be returning for her fifth season with Lifeline after working on such productions as The Island of Dr. Moreau, and The Mark of Zorro. Previous production management positions include the last four seasons at Strawdog Theatre, Ellen Under Glasswith the House Theatre of Chicago, and One False Note with Plasticene. She currently serves as the Production Manager and General Manager at Strawdog Theatre, as well as the Assistant Production Manager at Theater on the Lake (since 2004).
Joanna Iwanicka (Scenic & Properties Designer)
Joanna returns to Lifeline where she designed the set, properties, and puppets for The True Story of 3 Little Pigs! and created puppets for Dooby Dooby Moo, The Last of The Dragons, The Blue Shadow, and Watership Down. Her recent credits include designing sets and costumes for Zastrozzi with The Division Theater Company, assisting Blair Thomas on CCT’s The Houdini Box, and her ongoing collaboration with Sea Beast Puppet Company. Joanna graduated from UIUC (BFA) and Academy of Fine Arts in Poznan, Poland (MA). She will travel to Poland in June, to design a show based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s Farmer Giles of Ham.
Jordan Kardasz (Lighting Designer)
Jordan is happy to be rounding out her season at Lifeline with such a fun show with a great cast and crew. She last lit How to Survive a Fairy Tale and assisted on Hunger. Jordan has been designing and assisting with lots of folks around town like Strange Tree, Theatre Seven, The Hypocrites, Factory, Urbantheatre, and Matter Dance. Jordan is an ensemble member at Strawdog Theatre Company and an artistic associate with Sideshow Theatre.
Kimberly G. Morris (Costume Designer)
Kim is pleased to be working again with Lifeline. Based in Chicago, she freelance designs and builds costumes, wigs, makeup, props, puppets and special effects for numerous venues around the country such as the Chicago Childrens Theatre, Babes with Blades, Shedd Aquarium, Stage Left Theatre, Lifeline Theatre, The Griffin Theater, American Shakespeare Center (VA), Theatre West Virginia (WV), Denison University (OH), Virginia Commonwealth University (VA), and Tecumseh!(OH). Upcoming projects include Breaking Up Is Hard to Do and Sirens with Fox Valley Repertory, Curious Savage with MEHS, Chicago with NWHS, and Susan Swayne and the Reluctant Bride with Babes with Blades.
Joe Schermoly (Technical Director)
Joe is a set designer, technical director and painter. His design work has been seen around Chicago at Lifeline Theatre (The Count of Monte Cristo, The Moonstone), Griffin (Punk Rock, No More Dead Dogs, Port, The Constant Wife), Strawdog (The Master and Margarita, Richard III), Sinnerman Ensemble (Sweet Confinement), Eclipse (The Trestle at Pope Lick Creek) and more. He has also designed and built shows in London for The Finborough, Bush, and Gate theatres among others. Joe studied set design at Northwestern University and has received two After Dark Awards for his design work in Chicago.
Manny Tamayo (Assistant Director)
Manny last appeared at Lifeline onstage as Sgt. Gonzalez in The Mark of Zorro. He is a proud ensemble member of the 20-year old Factory Theater. Manny hails from Joliet.
From the Chicago Reader
March 19, 2012
By Dan Jakes
“Mo Willems’s 2009 children’s book gets a colorful, high-energy, thoroughly charming stage adaptation by Robert Kauzlaric and LifeLine Theatre. Wilbur, an expressive, isolated, soft-hearted mole rat, has a secret so taboo that he must keep it from his strictly-nude peers, as well as his BFF Esther–he’s a fashion fanatic who spends a great deal of his private time at his closet… Paul Gilvary amps up the pro-acceptance message with a handful of cute musical numbers, and director Paul S. Holmquist’s ensemble plays well to the little ones.”
From Make It Better
Naked Mole Rat Charms at Lifeline Theatre
March 23, 2012
By Beth Engelma
Lifeline Theatre’s new production, “Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed” is chock-full of family fun.
The musical play, adapted from Mo Willem’s best-selling picture book uses quirky wit and humor to explore the importance of individuality and tolerance. Adapted for stage by Robert Zauzlaric, the story features Nathaniel Niemi as Wilbur, a naked mole rat who loves to wear clothes. His interest however, is met with derision from his teacher and peers who can’t understand why Wilbur wants to be different. Eventually Wilbur, along with his best friend Esther (Ellie Reed) and the rest of the pups take the issue to Grand-pah the oldest, wisest (and most naked) mole rat in the colony. What results is a lesson on self-expression, acceptance and snazzy dressing.
Niemi’s exuberance as clothes-loving Wilbur is infectious and Julia Stemper and Morgan Maher are spot on as bullies Rhonda and Beauregard. The simple set helps keep the focus on the performance and the choreography is fresh and fun. (Who knew naked mole rats could do the “robot?”) The show also provides an excellent segue for parents to talk to their kids about tolerance, kindness and acceptance, three things that never go out of style.
From Time Out Chicago Kids
March 23, 2012
By Jonathan Messinger
Mo Willems is something of a celebrity in our house, with books like Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus and Cat the Cat Who Is That? in full bedtime rotation. So it was a no-brainer for us to borrow Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed from the library in anticipation of Lifeline Theatre’s musical adaptation. The short and (characteristically) funny story concerns Wilbur, a naked mole rat who discovers that he likes clothes and would rather don some duds. This throws the colony into a tizzy, ostracizing the dapper young rodent.
But when Grand-pah, the “wisest and most naked naked mole rat,” hears Wilbur’s simple question, “Why not?”, he decides to make a proclamation. Spoiler alert: Grand-pah likes clothes too. The moral: How one naked mole rat chooses to express himself may not be for all naked mole rats, but naked or not, acceptance wins the day. Clearly, adapter Robert Kauzlaric had his work cut out for him, stretching out a very simple and short story to an hourlong production.
But Kauzlaric’s expansion is really strong. The play decenters Wilbur — whose main role here is to sing, dance, and don astronaut suits and fringed cowboy vests — in favor of his best friend Esther (not in the book). While Wilbur has the courage of his passion to insulate him from the bullies, Esther has to try to understand her best friend and withstand peer pressure to denounce her be-slacked buddy. So, while the book requires little more than an old man’s proclamation to make intolerance go away, the moral conundrum of the play runs deeper. Wilbur will do as Wilbur does, but the screws are put to Esther.
In that sense, the play communicates the difficulty and triumph of choosing acceptance over repudiation in a much clearer way. It almost reads as “It Gets Better” for the sandbox set (though, unlike that project, the play makes the salient point that it should really be better right now).
The song-and-dance numbers are relatively forgettable. Were it not for my notes, I couldn’t recall any of the tunes. But the actors are clearly having fun onstage, which is contagious in the audience. Mike Ooi as the teacher Mr. Clear and the formidable Grand-pah has the best pipes (poor Nathaniel Niemi as Wilbur gets drowned out by the music) and just the right amount of ham in his mole rat. Meanwhile, Morgan Maher as the braindead bully Beauregard hits all the right comic notes. All of the characters seem at home in their pink “naked” tunics, and Niemi employs some impressive gymnastics jumping in and out of clothes. Those brightly colored costumes, designed by Kimberly G. Morris, really make clothes look fun.
As I was heading into the show, one of the Lifeline staffers joked that my two-and-a-half-year-old (the theater recommends the show for 5 and up) sitting on my shoulders would be the one writing the review. And given that he laughed, cheered, clapped and called out to Wilbur throughout the entire thing, that fourth star is for him.