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Dean Vader (played by Joseph Gratz) leads a chorus of law troopers in last year's Law School musical, "Law Wars."

Dean Vader (played by Joseph Gratz) leads a chorus of law troopers in last year's Law School musical, Law Wars.

Playtime for Law School students

By Cass Erickson

Published on March 2, 2005

Law school. It's not what you think: all work and no play. In the case of the University's law school, the play's the thing.

This weekend, law school students--members of Theatre of the Relatively Talentless, or TORT--will present their third annual original musical, Walter Wonka and the Lawyer Factory, a parody of the law school experience inspired by the movie Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

"Law school musicals have been around for 20 to 25 years, and they're popular at the upper-echelon law schools like Harvard, University of Chicago, and Stanford," says third-year law student and coproducer of Walter Wonka, Bobak Ha'Eri. "When we heard about other prestigious law schools doing musicals, we thought, why not us?"

"We find that being under great pressure and adversity inspires creativity, and law school is the best pressure cooker there is," says Ha'Eri.

TORT performed The Wizard of Fritz, featuring Walter Mondale, to a sold-out house the first year and Law Wars the second year--both of which got rave reviews. "Everyone was stunned by how good it was," says Ha'Eri. TORT quickly gained a reputation for having the best law school musical in the country... "probably because others schools don't put as much into it as we do," says Libby Washburn, Law School director of communications.

But where do they get the talent? "A lot of people in law school either majored in the arts or worked in the arts," says Ha'Eri. "We've got theater teachers, professional directors, lots of musicians, including an MFA in electric guitar from the Berklee College of Music, and a former costume design major who went to Cornell--so the talent pool is quite stunning. We actually have students coming to the law school because of the musical. And when the dean saw how good it was for the University, it became a recruiting tool and something to tell the alumni about." TORT adds to the musical mix by tapping professors, faculty, and alumni who are friendly and might be a good fit. "Walter Mondale loves being in the musical," says Ha'Eri. Since TORT likes to share the wealth among alumni, they'll often limit a single alum's performance to one night instead of the entire run. Walter Wonka features former Vice President Mondale on Thursday, March 3. Hennepin County District Court Judge Stephen Aldrich and Law School dean Alex Johnson join the show on Friday, March 4. And Hennepin County Attorney Amy Klobuchar performs on Saturday, March 5. "We find that being under great pressure and adversity inspires creativity, and law school is the best pressure cooker there is," says Ha'Eri, a self-described "relaxed law school student," who plans to work in the film industry in California. "The musical is a great opportunity for law school students to cut loose in a less stressful environment, an opportunity to vent the pent-up stress from an otherwise dreary existence." Walter Wonka is an $8,000 production with a cast and crew of 55, a 10-piece band, and top-notch singers. Nearly yearlong, from May to March, TORT members are busy with some aspect of producing an original musical: writing the script (which is still a work-in-progress a week before the run), adapting popular songs, directing, performing, creating publicity, and writing grants.

Walter Wonka and the Lawyer Factory will be performed March 3, 4, and 5 at 7:30 p.m. in the St. Paul Student Union Theater, 2017 Buford Avenue, on the Twin Cities campus in St. Paul. Joseph Gratz directs the production. Patrick Stura is the lead writer, and Ha'Eri and Al Vredeveld are coproducers. Admission to the show is $10. For ticket information, contact mndancinglawyers@hotmail.com or Bobak Ha'Eri at 213-446-6900 or Al Vredeveld at 612-385-3023. For highlights of last year's show, visit the TORT 2003-04 highlight DVD.