Indy Fringe part 2: “School House Wrong” and “Welcome to Zanland!”

Some day in the not-too-distant future, when “School House Wrong” is a go-to show for regional theaters around the country (after its off-Broadway or hit Chicago run, of course), I’ll be happily among those boasting, “Yeah, I was there on opening night.”

Day two of Indy Fringe brought a packed house to the Phoenix Theatre main stage for “School House Wrong”—a crowd rewarded with a fast-paced, very funny evening of smart, irreverent goofiness from Indy-based sketch comedy troupe Three Dollar Bill.

The premise is simple and preps the audience for a good time even before the lights go down: A spoof of the “Schoolhouse Rock” shorts that taught a generation the function of conjunctions and how a bill becomes law. In this case, though, the information is wrong-headed (the evangelical “Space is Not a Place”), narrow-minded (the “Beauty School Dropout”-ish “Speak American”), or deals with subjects not normally covered in Saturday morning edu-tainment ditties (the meth-lab lessons of “I’m Just a Pill.”)

The music is catchy in the same way as the originals. The lyrics are smart—at least, those that weren’t lost in big laughter (a pretty good problem to have in a comedy show).  And to keep it from being just strung-together bits, Three Dollar Bill ties “School House Wrong” together with a hilarious series of black-out-sketch equivalents to the quick-hit bumpers that advertised “Schoolhouse Rock.”

Not that “School House Wrong” is totally ready for the big time right now. A few sketches, particularly one about Google, don’t quite land (in part because, by that point in the show, the bar had already been raised so high). An enterprising producer with an eye on the bottom line will likely cut down the cast size—which will make individual personalities have an easier time popping—and perhaps find a few men with stronger voices.

But such next-step considerations shouldn’t be taken as a slight to what’s on stage at the Phoenix. This is a big, fat hit, a crowd-pleaser that pleases through wit, brains and talent. And some moments of very funny choreography.

There are five more shows. I suggest camping out early to make sure you get a seat. Monday, Aug. 22 at 9 p.m. may be your best bet.

After a brief time to recover from “School House Wrong,” I headed to the Indy Fringe Building where Zan Aufderheide is offering her show “Welcome to Zanland!” Despite a few moments of seriousness, this is a stand-up comedy act, even down to the needs-a-lot-of-work opener.  There’s some decent material—and the audience seemed to react as they might to a good-enough middle act at a Crackers Comedy Club—but the Fringe program promise of something “Autobiographical. Hilarious. Poignant. Raw” wasn’t delivered.

Without a clear and compelling sense of character amidst the punch lines and mugging, “Welcome to Zanland” doesn’t make enough of a commitment to transcending its comedy club roots. But if you aren’t looking for more, you could do a lot worse.

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