The next guest at the Please Touch Museum will be Mr. Potato Head, following the visit from Curious George and Clifford the Big Red Dog. This year, the precocious monkey and daft and delightful 52-year-old pet were enlisted by the museum, the main children's attraction in West Fairmount Park, to relaunch its rotation of engaging shows.
This weekend, "The Adventures of Mr. Potato Head," a colorful, 2,500- square-foot display starring Playskool's circa-1952 root-vegetable phenom, will open in Memorial Hall's west wing and overflow into its north foyer.
Adventures will include a potato hieroglyphics maze, a pretend archaeological dig with King Tato, a play space station with Cmdr. Potato Head, simulated snorkeling with Jacques Coustato, a mock safari led by the pith-helmeted tuber and - of course - plenty of preserved vintage plastic mustaches and pipes and such, offering mature attendees a brief escape down childhood-memories lane.
A person-size Mr. Potato Head will be there, too, at noon and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, amid opening weekend games of hot potato, potato-sack races, potato tosses, and potato body part collage-making.
For any such show to succeed, it has to be both relevant and engaging. So far, the North American tour of "The Adventures of Mr. Potato Head" has exceeded expectations. The Betty Brinn Children's Museum in Milwaukee created the exhibit in 2008 and it made the rounds among a handful of kid-centric venues.
"Mr. Potato Head is an incredible character that appeals to children and adults," said Wettstein, "The theme is you can do anything you want to do and be anything you want to be. . . . It's all about being curious and confident and respectful, so it's very timely - and timeless."
Herein lies one of the secrets to success for a children's museum exhibit: To ensure ticket- and membership-buying, chaperones must appreciate it, too. "Adults are a key to [an exhibit's] success," she said. The exhibit has "a lot of tongue-in-cheek humor. . . . We want parents and other adults who are visiting to be just as engaged."
Grown-up onlookers will appreciate the exhibit's play on words and the hundreds of Mr. Potato Head parts.
But it's the exhibit's "remember that?" anthology of the character's 64 years above ground that promises to spark nostalgia among parents and grandparents. When the toy was introduced, it consisted of facial features and accessories that turned a veggie into a plaything. It wasn't until 1964 that its manufacturer added a plastic potato body to fit those parts.
Mr. Potato Head is the first toy advertised on television and the first to give up smoking. (In 1987, he turned over his signature pipe to Surgeon General C. Everett Koop and became the American Cancer Society's Great Smokeout official "spokespud.")
The Please Touch Kids Shop, before it closes at the end of this month for a preholiday renovation, will be selling take-home versions of vintage synergies. Along with classic Mr. and Mrs. Potato Heads, there will be Star Wars-themed Spudtroopers and Luke Frywalkers.