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University of Minnesota

TORT returns to Pantages

February 26, 2009

Law students perform in the 2008 TORT production at the Pantages Theatre.

Law students perform in the 2008 TORT musical at the Pantages Theatre.

Annual Law School musical will be March 6 and 7

By Rick Moore

The unlikely marriage of law school and musical theater has become a new rite of spring at the U—an alternate version of "March Madness." And this year's ceremony stands to be the biggest and best production to date.

The University of Minnesota Law School's Theatre of the Relatively Talentless (TORT) will present its seventh annual musical, "It's a Wonderful Law School," on March 6 and 7 at Pantages Theatre in downtown Minneapolis. Like all previous TORT productions, the musical was produced entirely by Law School students.

"It's a Wonderful Law School" (loosely based on Frank Capra's classic, "It's a Wonderful Life") follows the story of Georgie, a kind and caring third-year law student who finds herself doubting her decision to go to law school and considering a transfer to (gasp!) the Carlson School of Management. (Disclaimer: The previous sentence is from the promotional copy from the Law School and is in no way an indictment of the Carlson School.) Clarice, a new professor trying to earn tenure, is assigned to help Georgie avoid that horrible mistake (same disclaimer) by showing her what the Law School would have been like without her. From there, the hijinks ensue.

The cast of characters includes names you'll recognize from the Capra classic, including Sam Wainwright, Bert and Ernie, and the irrepressible flirt Violet. And the TORT production's equivalent of Mr. Potter is every bit as mean-spirited and intimidating as the "It's A Wonderful Life" antagonist. We'll leave it at that.

Courtly cameos

As per TORT tradition, there will be special cameo appearances by Law School faculty and prominent members of the legal community. Schedule to appear at the 2009 production are former Vice President Walter Mondale (1956 alum), U.S. District Court Judges James Rosenbaum ('69) and John Tunheim ('80), Minnesota Supreme Court Justices Paul Anderson ('68) and Lorie Skjerven Gildea, and Chief Justice Eric J. Magnuson.

Putting together an original, full-length musical parody with a Law School twist provides a creative outlet for law students and faculty, and that was the impetus behind TORT's founding in 2002.

"It's a fantastic outlet for a bunch of weary students who spend way too much time in the library," says the show's director Gil Castro, a third-year law student who had leading roles in the last two productions. "The show is a blast to do, and as it turns out, it's going to be a great show."

More than 100 students are participating in this year's production as writers and as members of the cast, crew, and band. True to TORT tradition, all law students are allowed to participate, without regard to talent.

Another benefit of the show, Castro points out, is that first-year law students get to mingle with second- and third-year students, which doesn't always happen. "Most of my best friends in law school I've made through TORT," he says.

The TORT cast performed a full run-through of Act 1 at the Law School's Auerbach Commons on February 22 in front of a single visitor, as well as the staid countenances of the portraits of former deans Robert A. Stein and Carl A. Auerbach. The script was rife with references to Walter Mondale, the faculty who teach in his namesake building, and even the rival law schools in the Twin Cities and beyond. And the musical numbers could barely be contained in the confines of the commons, suggesting a more proper venue at the Pantages.

Will Georgie stay at the Law School or transfer to (gasp!) Carlson? Will Clarice earn her tenure? Will the cast of TORT have any energy left to enjoy a proper spring break? You can find out the answers to at least two of those questions by attending one of the shows. But one thing is certain. Despite the clever name behind the acronym, this is not a relatively talentless bunch.

Tickets, which are $17 ($12 for students with ID), are available at the State Theatre box office or through Ticketmaster. University students can e-mail for on-campus ticketing procedures. Advance purchase is recommended. For more information about "It's a Wonderful Law School," visit  TORT.