Sept. 12--Two years ago, a send-up of the Freddy Awards made its debut to full houses at Muhlenberg College.
The show, called "The Teddy Bear Awards," was written by Peter Schmidt of Allentown, inspired by Broadway actor and Allentown native Jeff Weiss, and performed by Allentown Public Theatre.
Now Schmidt has reworked and trimmed the show and will present the new version, now called "Better than Broadway: A Semi Musical Travesty," three times this month.
It is making its debut at the Philadelphia's Fringe Festival through Saturday. It will be performed at Muhlenberg College's Rehearsal House Sept. 19-21 and returns to Philadelphia at the Adrienne Theatre Sept. 25-29.
Schmidt is hoping the show has a bright future beyond the Lehigh Valley.
"It's a weird show for Allentown, but it's not weird for the Fringe," he says.
"Better Than Broadway" is presented in a loose, episodic style and follows several high schools that are vying to win the award for "Most Awesomest Musical Ever This Year" in the 200th Annual Teddy Awards.
The show takes place in the fictional Krautstown, Pa., a Pennsylvania Dutch city created by Weiss more than 30 years ago and patterned after Allentown. The show skewers the Freddy Awards, the high school musical awards program presented by the State Theatre in Easton, and musical theater in general and the Lehigh Valley, but Schmidt feels the jokes will translate outside the region.
"It could be any town," he says. "It's about people in a small town going crazy."
Weiss created the concept of Krautstown for an off-Broadway show and says the Pennsylvania Dutch references were "exotic" to the New York audience. Weiss and Schmidt met when Schmidt acted in some of Weiss' plays.
"Better Than Broadway" pokes fun at local institutions including Yocco's ("Jocko's Hot Dogs"), SteelStacks and Sands Casino ("Smokestaxx Casino") and the Agri-Plex ("Nag Hall").
"Things like that are everywhere," Schmidt says. "It's a place to take off from."
The play also includes a plot line about Teddy Award-sponsor Teddy Corp. being involved in an international conspiracy involving suicide, murder, assassination and money-laundering.
"The conspiracy is important," Schmidt says. "It gives it a little bit of depth and ties it all together. I hope it will be a little biting."
The show, which originally featured a slew of spoofs on Broadway songs from "Showboat" and "Grease" to "My Fair Lady," will now also have spoofs on songs from "Les Miserables" and "Jekyll and Hyde."
"I put in as many spoofs as I could fit in," he says. "Be big, not subtle."
Schmidt, who sang in Muhlenberg's productions of "Mikado" and "H.M.S. Pinafore," plays Bud Klein, theater director of Whiteland High School. The character is a Gilbert and Sullivan performer who now has a patter song.
Schmidt, who has acted in more than 70 shows in regional theaters, moved back to the Lehigh Valley from New York 10 years ago. When Weiss moved also back to Allentown a few years ago, he collaborated with Weiss to resurrect Krautstown.
Weiss, who appears in a cameo in "The Teddy Bear Awards," was not available to reprise his role as the mayor of Krautstown in "Better Than Broadway," so Schmidt is taking it over.
"I want it to look like a Jeff Weiss show," Schmidt says. "I'll be the emcee like Jeff and the transitions will be Jeff-like and deceptively simple. I will constantly talk to the audience and clap as they come to their seats."
Schmidt admits it's "hard to sell a new show in the big city," but says he feels "Better Than Broadway" has a future.
"If it does well in Philadelphia, I hope to take it further," he says.
-- "Better than Broadway: A Semi Musical Travesty," 8 and 10:15 p.m. Sept. 12-14, Beechman Cabaret Theater, Theater at the University of the Arts, 601 S. Broad St., Philadelphia; 8 p.m. Sept. 19-21, Muhlenberg College, Rehearsal House, 2400 Chew St., Allentown; 8 p.m. Sept. 25-28 and 2 p.m. Sept. 29, Mainstage at the Adrienne, 2030 Sansom St. Tickets: $20; $15, students. http://www.antrobusarts.com.
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