Encore Performance

Law Revue Dances Toward its 4th Decade

Edith “Edie” Reese, JD ’80, was in her second year at GW Law when two 3Ls asked for her help in their trial practice class. The students needed a surprise witness to make an “excited utterance.” 

“I came into their class dressed as a floozy and with a phony accent,” Ms. Reese recalls. “When I made my excited utterance, it surprised everyone, the whole courtroom went into chaos, there was an objection, and the professors presiding over the mock trial stopped the proceedings.

“A little later those same students told me I had a flair for the dramatic and asked if I would help with a show they were doing,” she says.

Little did Ms. Reese realize that her involvement in that show would launch a GW Law tradition that is heading toward its fourth decade: the annual Law Revue.

Ms. Reese was no stranger to the performing arts. Her mother was involved in community theater, and Ms. Reese was a graduate of Highland Park High School in Illinois, where a highly respected drama department had produced a culture of “drama jocks.” (Among Ms. Reese’s classmates was now actor Gary Sinise.) 

She put her all into that law school musical show, and when it was over, the 3Ls—Dino Gentile, JD ’79, (now deceased) and Deborah Costlow, JD ’79—passed the baton, telling her to try it again next year.

Ms. Reese, office manager for a construction firm in Northbrook, Ill., took that suggestion seriously. She formed a board. She ran ads for cast members, lining up about 40 law students who rehearsed for two months at the Marvin Center. And she recruited a directorial team. Among its members were Jill Lerner, JD ’80, senior vice president of human resources and administration at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, and Carl Gold, JD ’80, who retired in February from a career with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). 

Both had worked on the first show. Ms. Reese asked them to help her with the sequel that made the tradition official.

Ms. Lerner served as one of the revue’s choreographers and writers. She called it “hands down one of the best experiences I had at GW.” Mr. Gold said it helped “build some necessary esprit de corps among the students.”

Although Mr. Gold was recruited for his writing talent, he also starred in a skit depicting him as permanently entrenched in the law library—accompanied by the lyrics “I’ve grown accustomed to this place” (to the tune “I’ve grown accustomed to her face” from the movie My Fair Lady). GW Law Revue was, and continues to be, that kind of humor.

Professors were the main targets of the early revues. One sketch spoofed Professor Jerome A. Barron, who led a search committee to find a successor to Dean Robert Kramer, who was retiring after 18 years at the helm of the school. “Professor Barron wound up being selected as the next dean, so we did a segment on ‘How to become a law school dean without even trying,’” Ms. Reese recalls.

Dean Kramer didn’t escape, either.

“We were doing the show at Lisner Auditorium, and because of insurance restrictions, we weren’t allowed to pull the curtain. So we had to come up with a way to show we were moving from one skit to another,” Ms. Reese says. “That’s when we thought of Dean Kramer.” 

Dean Kramer was a quiet administrator who had a habit of joking at student orientations that he wasn’t allowed to do much except change light bulbs at the school, move the clocks ahead for daylight saving time, and other menial tasks. The Law Revue team dressed a student to look like the dean and had him wordlessly push a broom across the stage at the end of each act. 

“The audience howled,” Ms. Reese recalls. Mr. Gold says Dean Kramer, apparently unaware that the character represented him, told faculty the next day that he was disappointed he hadn’t been spoofed.

Mr. Gold also remembers a sketch about the late Professor David E. Seidelson, who taught torts and evidence. 

“He gave these long tortured hypotheticals—Rube Goldberg style—in his class, and he was known for having a one-question exam that lasted three hours,” Mr. Gold says. Traffic patterns near the Foggy Bottom Campus were part of the Seidelson skit, which featured students on tricycles. 

Fast forward

Held every February, The current revue, much like its predecessors, lets law students unfurl their talents as singers, dancers, musicians, choreographers, stagehands, and song and script writers. The revue roasts the law school, its professors, current events, the legal profession, and almost always, the job outlook.

Music still forms the framework for the comedy, although movie soundtracks that marked the early revues have made way for rock and rap. And professors not only get lampooned, they now sometimes join the students on stage. 

Lisa M. Fairfax, the Leroy Sorenson Merrifield Research Professor of Law, has appeared in multiple revues. In one, she was joined by her husband, Roger Fairfax, professor of law and associate dean for public engagement.

“We did a skit that was a play on Mr. & Mrs. Smith, the movie with Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. We were playing ourselves but pretending to be hired assassins,” says Professor Fairfax. 

This year, the revue is under the direction of 3L Laura Géigel, whose bona fides include a theater background. She worked as an actress in New York until she was sidelined by an injury on stage. That’s when she decided to follow in the footsteps of her father, a lawyer.

 “At first I was not planning on joining the Law Revue. I knew the show existed, but I really wanted to focus on my studies,” says Ms. Géigel. “But I made a lot of friends who were 3Ls and 2Ls who were involved in the show … and I also missed the way I could make people laugh working through an ensemble-based group.” 

As a 2L, she was the revue’s assistant music director. More than 700 people turned out for that revue, which had a cast of 62. This year, she’s the director. 

“We do a fully staged, fully costumed, fully lit production,” explains Ms. Géigel. She is assisted by a Law Revue board and an assistant director, two producers, a music director, two assistant music directors, a head writer, four skit directors, a choreographer, and two assistant choreographers.

To cover the costs of the show and the alumni reception that precedes it, fundraising—including performances by law school bands Attractive Nuisance and Gross Negligence—takes place in the spring and fall. The revue team also auctions off a cameo appearance in each show, usually to an alumnus or alumna.

Auditions start in November. “You don’t have to have any talent, you just have to have a willingness to commit,” Ms. Géigel says. “We solicit scripts and ideas from our cast, and they submit them over the winter break.” The board reads every submission over the course of an intense week, picks the material for the show, sets up the rehearsal schedule, and casts the performers. 

Expanding the formula

Short videos have also become part of the template. They are shown at intervals during each revue and uploaded to YouTube. GW Law Revue videos have made it into the final cut in nearly every year of the video competition judged by industry blog Above the Law.

The 2014 Law Revue’s “Just Get a Job” video was reportedly one of Professor Gregory E. Maggs’ favorite skits. A video on intellectual property law—and the difficulty of getting a job in the technology sector without a science background—prompted a California IT firm to solicit GW Law résumés. Professor Roger E. Schechter uses a 2012 rap video of the landmark Palsgraf v. Long Island Railroad Co. case in his torts class.

“The video doesn’t serve any legitimate educational purpose, but it makes the class more celebratory and memorable,” says Professor Schechter. “It’s also an advertisement for the Law Revue and shows students what great fun it can be to take part.” 

Ms. Lerner said she is delighted that the revue has become entrenched at GW Law. “There aren’t many traditions at law schools. There’s no walking through the gates the first day as there is at some undergrad institutions, or an annual bonfire,” she said. “Being part of something that has become a tradition is lovely.” 

 Some of those involved in the revues carry the tradition to other venues. After graduation, Ms. Reese performed for 20 years running in the Chicago Bar Association’s well-known Christmas Spirits Show. And Mr. Gold lent his parody-writing skills to the FDIC holiday parties. Students, alumni, and faculty say the Law Revue helps its participants feel comfortable in front of audiences and project emotion as litigators. 

“We had our moments putting the revue together because directing lawyers is a little bit like herding cats. But everybody had a lot of fun,” says Ms. Reese. “We had no idea we were creating this huge tradition that’s still alive today.” 

— by Mary A. Dempsey