“Most politicians like to be skewered at some point,” said attorney Jeffrey M. Marks, producer of the Chicago Bar Association annual satiric revue, which opens Thursday. “They may not be happy how we skewer them.”
Marks said most people figure they’ve made it if they’re being made fun of. “We get senators, representatives, judges . . . .”
“U.S. Attorneys,” added show co-writer Cliff Berman, sitting beside Marks in Philip H. Corboy Hall on the second floor of the CBA’s South Loop headquarters before rehearsals Monday for “Much to Sue About Nothing!” the 94th annual bar show.
“Governors,” added Marks.
“Quinn came, often” said Berman.
“Everybody wants to come,” said Marks, referring to the show.
Well, not everybody.
Rahm Emanuel won’t be attending the show this year because he never comes. Despite being personally invited, despite the lawyer playing him, Larry Aaronson, being his third cousin, and despite the mayor being a traditional source of fodder. The first line the chorus sings is, “Another year we’ll make fun of Rahm.”
The lawyerly lampoon goes back almost a century, to 1924, when the smattering of songs for the CBA’s Christmas party expanded into “Christmas Spirits,’ a full-length revue.Rahm’s predecessors had it worse and took it better. Mayor William Hale Thompson became Nero in the climactic song of the 1927 show, “The Burning of Rome.”
Ten years later, Ed Kelly — who attended regularly and “chortled manfully” — found himself lumped with Mussolini, Stalin and Hitler in a song, “All hail to dictators.” Mayor Kelly nevertheless went on stage, thanked the cast and did his impression of Franklin Roosevelt.
Rahm gets off light this year — he and Toni Preckwinkle find themselves at the inaugural meeting of the “Former Movers and Shakers Club” and sing of their lost power.
In our enlightened age, Preckwinkle can be played by a woman, Mghnon Martin. But for the first half of the show’s existence, the show was an all-male production, with female parts performed in drag.
In 1970, a lawyer named Tala Engel sued the show, claiming she was fired from the chorus because she “was and is a woman.”
The case was thrown out, but the CBA took the hint and included women in 1971. Now the cast of 52 attorneys — all unpaid — is two-thirds female.
I was curious about the show because lawyers are known for their billable hours, and a time-intensive show seems an anachronism in our Bowling Alone era. Yes, there is networking, particularly among the younger lawyers. But mostly the show is done for love of the limelight.
“Trial lawyers like to perform,” said Marks. “There are a lot of lawyers who had careers in the arts prior to becoming lawyers,” said Marks. “We’ve had people who were on Broadway in the show. We’ve got corporate counsels who have been former opera singers. We have people who have been professional dancers and then went to law school and became lawyers.”
I won’t review a glimpse of rehearsal, except to say there were strong voices and laugh-out-loud funny lines, particularly George W. Bush celebrating his escape from the worst president in history. Expect solid dinner theater-caliber production and you won’t be disappointed. It ain’t “Hamilton” but it ain’t bad.
The show is certainly up to the minute. At Monday’s rehearsal Prince Harry’s engagement was already worked into Prince Charles’ lament.
“We’re writing to the bitter end,” said Berman. “Last year was a perfect example. We assumed Hillary would win. We did a whole suite from ‘Les Miserables’ and wrote the songs with Hillary winning. We had to do an eleventh-hour rewrite and everything became Trump.”
The most controversial sketch ever was “Abbie in Wonderland,” in the 1969 production “Heir.” It parodied the circus-like Chicago Seven trial presided over by Judge Julius J. Hoffman. In the sketch he shouts “Off with their heads!” Feathers were ruffled. “A deplorable offense against good taste” the Tribune sniffed, in an editorial titled “Not funny.” The trouble was the trial was still going on, and the CBA ended up officially apologizing.
Judge Hoffman, by the way, sat in the audience opening night, 1969. Our forebears were made of stronger stuff, apparently.
The show runs from Nov. 30 to Dec. 3 at the DePaul Merle Reskin Theater. Tickets are $45.