Within three paragraphs, Judge Robert Young ’65 can get a crowd laughing. His satirical and humorous intro to Arthur Miller’s The Crucible reads, “A pleasant, well-respected couple, John and Elizabeth Proctor, retain a saucy teen-aged girl named Abigail Williams to help while Elizabeth is ill. As it turns out Abigail dotes on more than Elizabeth, which ultimately entices John into activity that wasn’t necessarily part of the Puritan playbook.”
This irreverent take on a classic is part of Young’s playbook. Every other year for the past 15 years, Young has used his love of great literature and musicals to coordinate a musical ensemble made up of fellow judges, lawyers, and court personnel to raise money for the Combined Campaign for Justice in Delaware. Taking a year to write each one, Young says, “My pattern is to start with a work that has a perfectly miserable ending, preferably including significant death, if at all possible. Seriously tragic stuff just takes a little tweaking to make things funny.” In order to accommodate all the members of the cast, more than half of whom Young reports were music or theater majors in college and therefore “have real talent,” he must expand the original stories to have more characters and create 25-song affairs. “These are all lawyers volunteering a lot of time, so I try diligently to have enough parts to make everyone reasonably happy.”
The shows have all the accoutrements of big-time theater, including a director, stage manager, choreographers, and 10 band members (including Young, who plays guitar, banjo, and several percussion instruments). The end result is a night of folly and fun and a $50,000 contribution from ticket sales and program ads for the campaign, which arranges legal services for the indigent.
Explaining his fondness for producing the shows, Young said, “I always had tunes and rhymes in my head.” He also has a penchant for drama, and he credits both the novel and movie version of To Kill a Mockingbird, which was released his senior year of high school, as an influence on his decision to become a lawyer. Just as one might have to see the law in its myriad facets, Young brings that wide eye to his adaptations. “It is great fun to wrestle with the traditional elements of those classic stories and arrive at 'alternate approaches’ that go with song and dancing,” he said and then emphasized, “and no deaths!”
Young certainly enjoys all aspects of the production, from getting the troupe together to playing in the band, but it’s clear that the cause for which it is all done is crucially important to him too. “At the end of all this,” he says, “being able to donate that check is pretty special.”