The Preposterous Predicament of Polly Peel (Act 1) by The Polly Peel Collective at the Toronto Fringe Festival has been on many “Don’t Miss at Fringe” lists. With book by Julie Tepperman and music and lyrics by Kevin Wong, this play was the winner of the Paul O’ Sullivan Prize for Musical Theatre. Well, in my opinion, it definitely delivers on the high expectations. It’s got a great story, great music, and great performances.Polly Peel (Hannah Levinson) is a precocious 11-year-old girl who loves nothing more than gathering nature specimens in the ravine and conducting experiments with her dad Paul (Troy Adams). When Paul dies unexpectedly, Polly, along with her mom Pauline (Jessica Sherman) and teenage sister Paula (Faly Mevamanana) must confront their grief. They are all having a hard time with it.
Polly engages is some magical thinking and believes her father’s spirit has been transferred into a frog she has captured. Now she just has to use her scientific skills to figure out how to get his soul back into his body (which has been donated to the university for scientific research). It’s both heartbreaking and hysterically funny. I alternated between tears of laughter and tears of sadness throughout the show.
The cast features many actors who have performed with major theatre companies in Toronto and beyond, and they were uniformly excellent. Levinson, in the title role, delivers a mature, vulnerable and spunky performance. She has powerful voice and great stage presence that belies her youth and small stature. Sherman, as Pauline, conveys real emotion as a mother who is trying to hold her family together but doesn’t quite know how. I could feel her tension and her bewilderment. I also really liked Ben Page as Arlo, a teenage counselor in training at a “grief camp” Polly and her sister attend. He perfectly captures the goofy enthusiasm and awkwardness of the best camp counselors.
For me, the mark of a good musical is if you keep humming the songs after the show. And I am definitely still humming. Every scene and every number was memorable. I particularly loved how the opening was staged with pillows and blankets held up behind and over the upright actors to make it look like they were in bed. My favourite scene was Polly and her dad dissecting a frog in their basement lab. I never imagined biology could inspire such joy or such funky dance moves.
Although it’s only the first draft of what will eventually be a full two-act musical, The Preposterous Predicament of Polly Peel is more fully developed and more professionally produced than many of the shows presented at Fringe. There’s a big team involved, and it definitely shows. It’s a real bargain at $13 a ticket.
I have a strong feeling that we will be hearing a lot more about The Preposterous Predicament of Polly Peel in the future. Go see it now, so that when this new musical hits the big time, you can say you were in on the ground floor. I can’t wait for Act Two.
- The Preposterous Predicament of Polly Peel plays at the Tarragon Theatre Mainspace. (30 Bridgman Ave.)
- Tickets are $13, including a $2 service charge. The festival also offers a range of money-saving passes and discounts for serious Fringers.
- Tickets can be purchased online, by telephone (416-966-1062), from the Festival Box Office at Scadding Court (707 Dundas St. W.), and — if any remain — from the venue’s box office starting one hour before curtain.
- Content Warning: Mature language.
- This venue is barrier-free. Designated accessible seating is in the middle of the auditorium.
- Be aware that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and that latecomers are never admitted.
- Thursday July 5th, 8:15 pm
- Saturday July 7th, 5:15 pm
- Monday July 9th, 1:00 pm
- Tuesday July 10th, 10:00 pm
- Wednesday July 11th, 7:00 pm
- Friday July 13th, 3:30 pm
- Sunday July 15th, 5:15 pm
Photo of Hannah Levinson by Sam Gaetz