If you’re an adult of a certain age, hearing the name “Peabody” in conjunction with science may make you think of a polymath anthropomorphic cartoon dog, companion to young lad Sherman. But in Glen Berger and Morgan Taylor’s quirky new musical, now in a world premiere with Young People’s Theatre of Chicago at the Greenhouse Theater Center, the title is a play on words. Young Alyssa Peabody (Eileen Doan) is determined to win her middle-school science fair with a project that focuses on patterns of, um, micturition: noticing how much her stepbrother pees after guzzling sports drinks, she wants to see if there’s a connection between what goes in, and what comes out. Of course, when word of her bathroom experiment gets out, her last name leads to a predictable rise in teasing from her classmates.
Peabody, a Musical Comedy for Intrepid Young Scientists Through 11/20: Fri 7 PM, Sat-Sun 10 AM and 1 PM; 1 PM only Sun 11/6; Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln, 773-404-7336, yptchi.org, $25 ($19 under 12), ages 5+
If you think a musical built around bodily fluids is a recipe for disaster, may I remind you that Urinetown! (created by former Chicagoans Mark Hollmann and Greg Kotis) won several Tony Awards and has become a perennial favorite across the country? But Berger (a writer for the animated kids’s show Arthur, as well as the author of several adult plays, such as Underneath the Lintel) and Taylor (the creator of the popular kids’ multimedia character Gustafer Yellowgold, who sadly died in August at age 52) are actually raising some cogent questions about how we approach scientific inquiry. A lot of science deals with things that we’re trained to think of as “gross.” But finding solutions to global problems (like, say, water shortages) depends on scientists being willing to dive into murky research streams.
Directed by YPT artistic director Randy White, the 90-minute show (geared for ages five and over) touches on scientific competition and sabotage as Alyssa’s classmate, Philip (Sam Linda) teams up with her stepbrother (Jonathan Shaboo) to steal her samples. Along the way, the script shoehorns in (sometimes awkwardly) snippets about famous women in science, including Mary Anning, whose work collecting fossils took the stage in Laura Schellhardt’s Digging Up Dessa at Theatre Above the Law earlier this year. We also meet more-famous male scientists such as Isaac Newton and Galileo (most of them played with amusing bewigged panache by Jonathan Schwart).
When Philip and Alyssa’s principal (Sabrina Edwards) insists that they put aside their differences and work together, they really find the groove for their research. Similarly, White’s ensemble works together smoothly, playing multiple roles that require them to shift from adults to tweens quickly. The music is recorded, not live, which is perhaps a bit of a disappointment, but judging from the reactions of the kids at the show I attended, Peabody held their interest and, one hopes, sparked some curiosity about the scientific process—even amid the sometimes groan-worthy scatological humor.