Arts / Performing Arts

Houston’s Own Night Court Brings Plenty of Musical Laughs — All-Lawyer Theater Company Certainly Makes Its Case

When Attorneys Go Wild

BY // 08.30.23

Ever wondered what lawyers do for fun? Since 1989, dozens of local legal practitioners have been pooling their musical and artistic talents for Night Court, Houston’s all-lawyer theater company and public charity. The name alone tells you this group’s annual production of an original musical comedy is going to be funny. This year’s mirthful romp was no exception.

“The Law Files: The Truth is Out There,” performed at The Hobby Center’s Zilkha Hall, borrowed science fiction themes and characters from The X-Files, Stranger Things, Men in Black and She-Hulk: Attorney at Law. This musical could have been a pantomime — the costumes alone were so delightfully wacky. But it wasn’t. Far from it.

The original script by Judy Frow and Janiece Horn, with contributions from the Night Court company, was packed with wit and skillfully moved the audience through an evening sparkling with hilarious songs and ensemble numbers.

Many of the scenes were amplified with outstanding success by sometimes humorous, sometimes decorative, and one outright funny (the puncturing of the “Chinese spy balloon”) use of LED and other digital light effects from the imagination of graphics designer and LED board operator Kyle Helberg.

Music hits from the 1980s and 1990s — reimagined with uproarious new lyrics from Debra Baker, Judy Frow, and Janiece Horn — had lawyers in the audience laughing at themselves in the best-spirited way.

The choreography was nothing short of fantastic. Classically-trained dancer and performer Dana Lizik was joined by the talented Marty Lundstrom and Chelsea Lowance in creating exuberant movement for the company that used just about every category of dance vocabulary with the possible except of ballet. These included jazz, modern, hip-hop, even “the swim” and a fabulous tap dancing number too.

Everyone on stage did a great job, unsurprisingly since — as you might expect — not a single lawyer up there was unprepared.

Chelsea Lowance, Jody-Ann Greenwood, Blair Parker, Liza Greene in Night Court's production of “The Law Files: The Truth is Out There" (Photo by John Wilson)
Chelsea Lowance, Jody-Ann Greenwood, Blair Parker, Liza Greene in Night Court’s production of “The Law Files: The Truth is Out There” (Photo by John Wilson)

And the plotline that created all this merriment? The selection of a sci-fi theme couldn’t have been more timely. The story had to do with the recent, if none too subtle, landing of artificial intelligence — ChatGPT, Claude 2 and the like — in the legal profession. One wonders, might there be a certain anxiety lurking beneath the levity?

For the opening number of this Night Court, Frow reworked the Beastie Boys’ rap song “Intergalactic” with new lyrics to introduce the TV shows parodied throughout the evening, adding this bit about artificial intelligence:

And then there is new AI, right in your face.

Changes in the legal practice, like an arms race!

How many lawyers gonna be displaced?

This new technology, can we embrace?  

Baker’s lyrics for the subsequent associates’ lament, performed by Liza Greene, Jody-Ann Greenwood, Laura Kemp and Chelsea Lowance, were set to Dolly Parton’s “Nine to Five”:

Now they’ve got a robot computer

A 24/7 law firm producer, We think they’re gonna take our jobs away

They call it artificial intelligence,

Works day and night for a couple of cents

No way that normal lawyers can work that way

Six of the nine numbers were about AI, three with lyrics on possible job loss and two describing the potential for abuse, such as billing lawyer time for what is actually bot time.

Heather “Hezz” Hughes in Night Court's production of “The Law Files: The Truth is Out There" (Photo by John Wilson)
Heather “Hezz” Hughes in Night Court’s production of “The Law Files: The Truth is Out There” (Photo by John Wilson)

But don’t worry. It was all in good fun. Frow came through with optimistic lyrics for Elizabeth Lockett in the night’s penultimate song and dance number. With her fabulous voice and stage presence, set off by a shimmering gold lamé gown (think Katy Perry at King Charles’ Coronation Concert), Lockett used “I Wanna Mediate With Somebody” (a parody of Shannon Rubicam and George Robert Merrill’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody – Who Loves Me”) to bring the house down:

I’ve used AI and won some cases, It’s a very helpful tool.

But we’re not bots, we’ve human faces, It’s why we went to law school.

We need to use our minds, To ethics, truth we can’t be blind.

So when consensus falls, To my phone you’ll call….

I really wanna speak with somebody! With the parties who need me.

The scene was enhanced by a clever and adorable big-screen animation of Lockett’s face. Unfortunately, Lockett herself appeared somewhat confined dancing on a desk upstage, distant from the audience. If she gets another big Night Court number, it would be great to bring her downstage center where she can move … and groove, then watch the fireworks really begin.

Clever script writing brought some of everyone’s favorite smartphone helpers to life. Yoka Larasati (Alexa-Amazon), Bri Holcombe (Cortana-Microsoft), Kelsey Heaton (Siri-Apple), and Tracy Christopher (Wiki-Wikipedia) were all costumed with cheery whimsy and made us enjoy watching them enjoying themselves in their fantasy roles.

For anyone on speaking terms with Siri, or even for anyone who’s never heard of her, Heaton’s rendition of Apple’s virtual assistant was one of the highlights of the evening. Heaton belted out a polished, rollicking and very funny song, “Great Scot! I Feel Like a Bot!” with Frow’s new lyrics to Lange and Twain’s 1997 hit, “Man! I Feel Like a Woman!” With moves a robot could only dream of, she led her sister bots and other characters in a dizzying musical extravaganza:

Let’s Go Bots…Come On!

Neural pathways have been tight, but now I’m feelin’ right

Gonna let the data hang out!

No ethics protocol, my morals are awol!

All your secrets I will shout!

Heather “Hezz” Hughes, Tara Taheri, Marty Thompson in Night Court's production of “The Law Files: The Truth is Out There" (Courtesy Night Court)
Heather “Hezz” Hughes, Tara Taheri, Marty Thompson in Night Court’s production of “The Law Files: The Truth is Out There” (Courtesy Night Court)

Marty Lundstrom (She-Hulk) gave a commanding and convincing performance as the Marvel comic book character, transformed from lawyer to superhero who provides legal counsel to other superheroes and, more recently, to metahumans. Her strong voice and polished performance of Gwen and Eric Stefani’s 1996 ballad “Don’t Speak” with new lyrics from Horn was one of the highlights of the show. With undeniable talent, combined with careful attention to elaborate costuming and makeup, she owned center stage.

In addition to serving as Night Court executive producer, the indefatigable Tara Taheri gave two stellar portrayals of very contrary characters. Her all-business character Managing Partner Vance was crisp and convincing. But her female version of the odd, distasteful and villainous Vecna, from the Netflix series Stranger Things was particularly brilliant. She appeared to enjoy the antics of Vecna’s character costumed in a scarlet cape with black feathers along the shoulders (devil’s wings, perhaps?) while singing the evil anthem, “Sweet Fees,” set to Annie Lennox and David Allan Stewart’s “Sweet Dreams”:

Sweet fees are made of these, How else can you make the squeeze?

Ethics and Rules (scoffs) oh please

But, if I may use the phrase, all’s well that ends well, the evil Upside Down realm was heroically vanquished. The audience, brimming with a pantheon of lawyers, judges, clerks and law professionals, was on its feet, dancing in the aisles to “You Gotta Fight for Your Right To Night Court,” based on the Beastie Boys hit. The entire cast was onstage singing:

Yeah…Kick it, Night Court raises money for those in need!

Our sponsors help to make this show a hit indeed.

But hey it’s the end so we gotta go

Come back next year for our Night Court show!

The four-night run benefitted several legal organizations across Houston: AVDA-TX, The Beacon (Houston), Child Advocates, Houston Area Women’s Center Children’s Court Services, Houston Volunteer Lawyers, Lone Star Legal Aid Military Veterans Unit and South Texas College of Law Houston Legal Clinics.

Bravos and bouquets to director Dr. Bobby Linhart and the entire cast, designers, crew and musicians who brought Night Court to the stage. Next year it’s: “Law’s Anatomy: The Juris Doctor Will See You Now. It is scheduled for August 21 to 24 at The Hobby Center. I’ve started laughing already.

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