Mo Willems’s Elephant in the Room: ‘Elephant & Piggie’s We Are in a Play!’

Books Entertainment Theater

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We’re huge fans of Mo Willems’s Elephant & Piggie books in this house. If you’re not already familiar with these characters, do yourself a favor and go correct that oversight immediately–especially if you have kids who love fun and being silly. I mean, there are 24 of them now; you really have no excuse.

Gerald (the elephant) and Piggie are best friends and have somewhat opposite personalities. Gerald is careful and quiet. Piggie is spirited and energetic. But they’re the bestest of best friends, and each book is a shining example of how children’s books can tackle themes such as friendship, cooperation, fear, and forgiveness with playfulness and charm.

In 2013, Gerald and Piggie leaped off the page and onto the stage. Washington, DC’s Kennedy Center commissioned a musical with the characters, and Mo Willems set to work on an adaptation. The show was enormously successful, and it has since been performed across the country. And now it’s returned. For the next several weeks, Elephant & Piggie’s We Are in a Play! is back at the Kennedy Center’s Family Theater, along with the original director and choreographer.


I took my kids to see the play during its initial run at the Kennedy Center, and we enjoyed it immensely–especially my daughter who was/is in love with the books. I, therefore, jumped at the chance to see it again with my son, who was only 2 years old the first time around. Needless to say, now that he’s a much more worldly 4 years old and much more familiar with the characters, he couldn’t stop smiling and dancing the entire time.

The play draws from several Elephant & Piggie books, including I Am Invited to a Party!, Elephants Cannot Dance!Listen to My Trumpet!, I Am Going!, Should I Share My Ice Cream?, I Love My New Toy!, and We Are in a Book! (Yes, Mo Willems has quite an appreciation for the exclamation point.)

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It should be noted that the director and costume designer chose not to envelop the actors in costumes meant to look exactly like Gerald and Piggie from the books. Instead, the actors wear outfits with subtle clues, which encourages young audience members to use their imaginations and further engage with the play.

Though the play (one hour without intermission) combines story elements from several books, they’re told in a way that feels natural–as if the stories were always meant to tell one longer tale. And holding everything together are some great songs about parties, ice cream, cool toys, and breaking the fourth wall (lyrics by Mo Willems; music by Deborah Wicks La Puma) that definitely get little toes tappin’.

Willems’s books target the youngest readers, so it would be easy to say that the musical targets the same preschool audience. Although that may technically be true, the show is great fun for all ages. I have a soft spot for these particular characters, and I wouldn’t have a problem attending a performance of this play all by myself.

Children’s theater can sometimes be incredibly hit or miss. I get that. But Elephant & Piggie’s We Are in a Play! hits all the right marks and is just a joy on all levels.

The show is currently playing at the Kennedy Center through January 3, 2016. Tickets are on sale here and selling out fast. I should also point out that Mo Willems will be in attendance and signing copies of his book after the December 19 performance.

In addition to the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, the show is also currently being performed by the Seattle Children’s Theatre (through December 6).

If you’re unable to make it to the Kennedy Center (or Seattle) but are interested in the play, you’re in luck! It was recently announced that the show will embark on an extensive tour throughout 2016. Dates have already been announced for performances in Fort Lauderdale, FL; Austin, TX; Las Vegas, NV; Glen Ellyn, IL; Memphis, TN; and Dayton, OH. Keep tabs on Mo’s blog for more updates.

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