"A-weema-weh, a-weema-weh / In the jungle, the mighty jungle...." The lion might be sleeping tonight, but all over H-Town attorneys, judges and stage-struck performers are donning wigs, costumes and make-up as Night Court, Houston's all-lawyer theater company, gets ready to present Law of the Jungle II.
Every year's musical brings a new theme and a new script, blending popular music with current events. Yes, they did Law of the Jungle in 2003 but playwrights Judy Frow and Debra Baker couldn't resist writing all new content even though the original goal was a reprisal.
The 2003 production riffed on songs from The Lion King and the ABBA songbook. "The music is so great. That was kind of Lion King meets George of the Jungle and of course Lion King is coming out again," says Frow, who is again directing.
"We toyed with the idea of repeating and rebooting it much like Jumanji rebooted," says Frow, though it also did not escape her notice that Bohemian Rhapsody won four Oscars earlier this year. "We were intrigued by that and we decided to add Queen to it."
"This year it’s Law of the Jungle meets Jumanji with the sound tracks of Lion King and Queen. We thought we would just kind of tweak it and — no — we wrote a new whole show."
Rehearsals already have begun and the working script calls for a hero learning about ethics in politics, election law and civics. But it's safe to say it's a fluid script and, with such a ripe Twitter-verse from which to draw, they'll be adding in some timely jokes before the curtain goes up.
For audience members, the appeal in attending a production like this is that the bar is set so low. It's a sort of pay to perform policy and so the big surprise comes when the cast turns out to actually be quite talented.
"We have a couple of new [performers] — we call them newbies — they were newbies last year and in leading roles this year. Just so darn good. And it’s always such a joy to find the breakout stars, and that’s what's interesting about it as a director," says Frow.
"It’s always so much fun what people bring to the table; that’s why we benefit from people’s low expectations. They think, 'Oh how good can it be?' Our lead actors — Matt Harper, his degree is in musical theater and then he was inspired to become a lawyer and he did that but he still has that talent — but we have this tremendous talent on stage that comes from unlikely places. It’s such a joy.
"Also part of my process is to cast so that it shows people’s strengths and hides weaknesses," says Frow. "We always take them, but it's a great opportunity for people to show us skills that they’ve worked on, they’ll go and take acting, singing, dancing lessons. We’re constantly seeing new talents."
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Fundraising is just about to wrap up; they're still looking for a few major sponsors and then Night Court will focus on selling tickets. Lawyers who attend will earn two hours of ethics CLE just for going to the show.
"It’s such great entertainment; people have such a good time. It's such a joy to watch, to be in, such a joy to direct. I truly am blessed," adds Frow.
This year's night court benefits Houston Area Women's Center Children's Court Services, Aid to Victims of Domestic Abuse, The Beacon's Beacon Law Program, Family Intervention - Infant Toddler Court, Lone Star Legal Aid - Military Veterans Unit, South Texas College of Law Houston Legal Clinics, and Child Advocates.
Performances are scheduled for August 14-17 at 7:30 Wednesday through Saturday at The Hobby Center, 800 Bagby. For information, call 71-315-2525 or visit nightcourt.org or thehobbycenter.org. $31.05 to $33.35.