Back in the early '90s, my husband and I watched his niece perform in her high school’s endless production of “Li’l Abner.” The 3¾-hour show strained familial bonds to the point where during intermission -- at the 2½-hour mark – Rick told me that he’d give his niece $50 if she promised to never be in another high school musical.
Fast forward to 2008, when friends got us tickets to ’s version of “Les Misérables.” The musical was riveting. The production, set, voices, choreography and acting were way beyond what I’d expect from a high school.
While credit for the quality of the shows rightly goes to the directors and students, the fact that so many more people look forward to the high school musical season is largely thanks to the Freddy Awards at the .
The Freddys – which are like a high school version of the Tony awards – has elevated the status of the kids who perform in musicals. Or, as participants have told State Theatre CEO Shelley Brown: “I used to be a ‘theater geek’ but now it’s cool.”
On May 24, the State Theatre celebrates the 10th anniversary of the with 30 public and private high schools competing in the awards show televised live on WFMZ.
“I think most of the schools would tell you their numbers are up,” Brown said. “What has changed things is the attention that has been brought to the high school shows.”
Newspaper, TV, radio and Patch coverage of the musicals intensify community interest, which helps fill seats at the high school productions.
Students don’t have to be nominated for an award to take part in the opening and closing numbers at the Freddys and it is there that theater kids from across the Lehigh Valley connect.
“We have only six rehearsals with the kids so it’s very, very challenging,” Brown said. “Kids e-mail me that it was the best experience they ever had in high school.”
One of the people who made it great was the late Vic Kumma, the State Theatre’s much-loved volunteer coordinator and house manager who worked with the participating schools. “Vic knew every kid by name and every part they played,” Brown recalls. When he was diagnosed with cancer in March 2008, Kumma suspected the worst and asked Brown if his memorial service could be at the State Theatre, which had meant so much to him.
He died on Dec. 10 that year and the State Theatre staff put out a call on Facebook for Freddy alumni who might want to perform at Kumma’s memorial service. Six days later, about 100 alums returned on an icy, snowy night to sing the "Hallelujah Chorus" in Kumma’s honor. In total, about a thousand people showed up to remember him and the vital role he had played at the theater and in the Freddys.
“Everybody worked to make it something wonderful,” Brown said. “It was a very moving thing to see how he impacted their lives.”
The same could be said of the Freddys. So Happy 10th Birthday, Freddy Awards. Take a bow. Here’s hoping you’re the longest running show in the Valley.