It all started with a casting call advertising “Open Auditions for Vocally Talented Members of the Bench and Bar.”
On Thursday, a group of local attorneys and judges who responded — along with several professional performers —will put on Gilbert and Sullivan’s satirical 40-minute operetta “Trial by Jury” as a fundraiser to benefit the Baltimore Bar Foundation, the charitable arm of the city bar association.
The one-act comic opera centers around the breach of a promise to marry — a cause of action that wasn’t abolished in Maryland until 1945, noted Kelly Hughes Iverson, a partner with Goodell, DeVries, Leech & Dann LLP and a member of the “Trial by Jury” cast.
“It’s very simple; it’s very Victorian. It was something that in the Victorian era was cutting-edge satire,” Iverson said. “It’s not like modern American musical theater, which has a different look and feel to it. They call it comic opera — it’s a light opera; it’s not a really heavy opera, but it’s more of the classical voice.”
In the show, Edwin, the groom, decides he no longer wishes to marry Angelina, who then brings him to court. Jurors in the case are reminded they must be free from bias but they immediately react with hostility toward Edwin despite not yet having heard his defense.
“It’s a total lampoon of the legal profession, so it’s a natural fit to do it for the bar association — the humor is all legal,” said Brian S. Goodman, a principal at Kramon & Graham P.A. as well as general manager of the Young Victorian Theatre Company, which is staging the production.
Written in 1875, “Trial by Jury” was a collaboration between Arthur Sullivan, who composed the music, and W. S. Gilbert, who wrote the libretto, or text. Considering the show’s spoof of the legal professions, it’s important to remember that Gilbert was a “failed lawyer” before becoming a writer, said Goodman, who plays the role of the “Learned Judge.”
“It’s a broad satire, and it’s a fun role to play,” he said.
Iverson described the production as a joint venture between the theater company, known as the Young Vic, which provided the direction and orchestra, and the Bar Foundation, which took the lead in planning the event.
Although the Young Vic is dedicated to performing Gilbert and Sullivan works, Goodman said, “Trial by Jury” is so short that it’s difficult to put on as a mainstage production.
This is not the first time the show has been performed to raise money for the Bar Foundation, which helps financially support organizations that provide legal services to those who can’t afford representation — it was performed in the 1980s and again in 2001, Goodman said.
Court of Special Appeals Judge Michael Reed, who sings in a church choir and performed in college, is playing one of the jurors. Apart from the performing aspects of the project, he said he’s enjoyed the chance to get to know some younger lawyers and other members of the bar.
“It’ll be a great show – there’s a lot of humor and activity,” said Reed, a former Baltimore City Circuit Court judge. “I think it’s going to be delightful, and it’s certainly for a great cause. I think people are going to have a really good time.”
In addition to the Thursday night performance benefitting the Bar Foundation, there will also be a show earlier on Thursday for University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law students, as well as a Saturday show for the general public. Proceeds from Saturday’s show will benefit the Young Vic.
“I think it should be a lot of fun and hopefully show a different side of lawyers and judges, and allow us an opportunity to poke some fun at ourselves and enjoy some good music and raise money for a good cause in the process,” Iverson said.