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FOR THE LOVE OF IT ALL

McGiffin and Young
Jim McGiffin, Esquire, and Judge Robert Young, long time collaborators in charitable musical productions

Not many people are lucky enough (or sufficiently persistent) to pursue their childhood passions into their adulthood.  Even fewer folks are able to combine that passion with their livelihood.  Only a select few find a way to do what they love alongside their colleagues while giving back to others.  But that is exactly what Superior Court Judge Robert B. Young and Jim McGiffin, Esq. have been able to accomplish for more than a decade.  Madame Bovary: Ho Ho Ho is the latest (and perhaps greatest) in a series of Lex Lyrica Productions written by Judge Young and co-produced with longtime friend and colleague, Jim McGiffin (with a little help from their friends).  Rivaling the creative outpourings from famed duos like Gilbert and Sullivan and Rogers and Hammerstein, these two friends (Young and McGiffin) have been together since the late 90‘s bringing quality musical theatre to the delight of Delaware audiences everywhere.  Next month, their volunteer troop of actors, dancers, musicians and technical gurus plucked from the courtrooms, law offices and government buildings across all three counties will gather together to begin rehearsals for Madame Bovary: Ho Ho Ho, the sixth in a series of musical comedy extravaganzas.  The show will be coming to a theatre near you in November 2013.  As always, proceeds from the show will go to benefit the Combined Campaign for Justice. 

Judge Young Graduated from Denison University in 1965 where he met his wife Karen (“dating her was the luckiest thing” says Judge Young).  He tried his hand at business school at Wharton and ultimately decided that law school was a better fit, graduating with a J.D. from Ohio State in 1968.  Settling in Delaware, Judge Young began his legal career at the law firm of Pricket Jones Elliott Kristol & Schnee and later opened his own firm prior to his appointment to the Superior Court on February 17, 2005.  Judge Young has two sons: Randy is a Psychology Professor at Bridgewater College in Virginia and Jeff is an attorney and practiced with Judge Young before he took the bench.

Recently, the AOC had the pleasure of sitting down with Young and McGiffin to find out just how (and why) these two do it.

Throughout the twists and turns in Judge Young’s career, music has been his constant, from high school bands (as a self-taught guitarist) to college theatre to the Grid Iron in Ohio where he got an opportunity to write music.  His first taste of “showing” got him hooked.  You can ask him why he loves it, but the smile on his face will tell you more than his words.  His very first Delaware production, The King v. Elliner Ruttee: the Joy of Maidenhood (a little operetta) 1999, was created at the request of Justice Maurice A. Hartnett III who asked Judge Young to produce a show to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the Court on the Green.  The original show was to be based on an early case involving a man who was tried and hung for murder.  Not one to say no, and unable to resist the lure of musical comedy (and not able to see the inherent humor in a hanging), Judge Young accepted the mission, but quickly changed the theme, basing his production instead on the case of a madam arrested for running a brothel who was acquitted by the jury (“possibly clients?” ponders Judge Young).  The call for volunteers for the show was immediately answered by McGiffin willing to put his bass talents to use only to be tapped for the lead -- a part that he describes as “un-singable.”  As is his wont, Judge Young adopted the lyrics for the production from the Delaware criminal code setting them to a tune from The Pirate of Penzance.  In addition to Jim, crew from the local theatre guild helped to make the show a great success, despite the fact that they were still recruiting for parts the day before the performance.  From these humble beginnings, Young and McGiffin have gone on to collaborate on a series of musical productions including Macbeth: a Family Musical (2004), A Tale of Two Cities: The Rock Opera (2007), Moby Dick: The Maritime Musicale (2009), and An American Tragedy: A Comedy (2011).  

Jim McGiffin was a music major at the University of North Texas where he studied upright bass. Ultimately choosing to pursue law instead of music (Jim would attribute the shift to being outnumbered by other talented musicians – we might suggest that fate had a hand in guiding him to law), McGiffin attended Boston College (class of 1985) where he met his wife, Kathy.  He took a job at the Delaware’s Community Legal Aid Society, Inc. where he has served in numerous capacities (including Executive Director).  He also served four years as Family Court Commissioner in Kent and Sussex Counties and currently acts as Delaware Senate Attorney.  He has two children – Bridget (Americorps/Vista Volunteer in West central Louisiana) and Connor (musical theater student at University of Michigan).

So what’s their formula?  According to Judge Young there really isn’t one, except for a few key elements.  The two start planning the next show before the end of the current one.  Jim has made lots of suggestions for show themes over the years, not one of which Judge Young has ever used.  Following his creative inclinations, Judge Young takes a book that most people claim to have read, but only few ever really did -- the denser and more depressing the material the better.  Using the cliff notes as his guide (“maybe,” notes Jim), he then turns the text into a work of musical art (or slapstick humor or…?) depending upon the onlooker’s taste.  Judge Young is “all about the rhyme.  Rhythm and tune just exist in [his] head.”  Then it’s up to Jim as band leader, along with his talented group of musicians (including Judge Young on banjo) to turn the demos into a musical production worthy of highbrow audiences statewide.  “One cannot overstate my appreciation for the efforts of the real musicians who take my thoughts and put them into some form—and particularly Jim, who has a million things going on, but puts all that music into arrangements for eight different instruments—a task that is just unimaginable to me,” stated Judge Young.

Charity has always been a component of the Lex Lyrica Productions, beginning with the Make a Wish Foundation and, later on, the Combined Campaign for Justice.  Jim thinks the fundraising component is beneficial in two ways: the shows have raised some serious money over the years (in excess of $50,000) to benefit the underserved, but it also gives folks a reason to come out beyond their own self interest.  Lawyers are busy people and the community outreach piece gives lawyers from different fields an opportunity and a reason to mingle with colleagues while doing something they love.   

How have the shows changed since the beginning?  “They just keep getting better,” noted Judge Young.  According to McGiffin: “The performances are tighter and the music and production values have improved.”  When asked what has been most surprising over the years, Judge Young stated “I am always surprised by the enormous talent of lawyers.” 

We listened as the two friends reminisced about the many memorable performances -- Tim Donovan, Mike Cochran, Jerry Hager, Janine Salomone, David Bever, Dave Baumberger, Mindy Clifton, Mike Tucker, Erin Della Barca, Ryan Browning; musicians like Tom Walsh, Dave O’Connor, Superior Court Judge Mary Johnston … and the list goes on.  Judge Young recounts receiving a call from Supreme Court Justice Randy J. Holland saying “I have a clerk who wants to do something in the musical.”  Of course I wouldn’t decline, but I was not expecting much.  During rehearsal, Jenness (Parker) is sitting down, back against the wall, cross-legged.  I am instructing someone on how to sing the piece and Jenness says ‘something like this?’ and belts the song out from the floor.  “Unbelievable!”

Lex Lyrica

Greg Johnson (repeat cast member) played for Judge Young’s little league team as a kid.  “We were in need of a male lead.  Someone told me Greg had a great voice.  So I picked up the phone and called him and reminded him of all those years I spent coaching him and that he owed me.  He is one of the best rock n’ roll singers I’ve ever heard. He’s been part of the shows ever since,” said Judge Young.  As for disappointments, neither could recall any, other than perhaps wishing to see more support from the community and greater attendance statewide.  

Why keep doing it? McGiffin says he can’t say no to Judge Young.  “He is stunningly generous of his time.  He is one of the most joyful people I have ever met.  You are just drawn to him and his incredibly positive outlook on life. He’s just fun to be around.  It’s also a good way to show that lawyers are people and that they care about their community.”  As for Judge Young, McGiffin says he doesn’t think he can stop. Judge Young admits his compulsion to write.  “Sometimes I will ask my wife to stop by the side of the road so that I can scribble down a tune that just came into my head.  Tunes just come to me,” said Judge Young.  Both men agree that it is such a “blast” to see people come together who might not otherwise meet -- trial lawyers with corporate counsel, big firms and solo practitioners and folks from all three counties.  “We get to step outside our daily routines and be together sharing what we love to benefit others.  It doesn’t get any better than that,” said Judge Young.   

As for this year’s show, “people can look forward to an evening of enjoyment beyond their expectations,” said Judge Young.  But be forewarned, Madame Bovary will not end anything like the book.  

Judge Young and Jim McGiffin would like to offer special thanks to Rina Marks and the DSBA for all of their support and to Commissioner Mark Vavala who provides the artwork for the programs each year.  The AOC would like to extend a special thank you to you, Judge Young and Jim McGiffin for giving of yourselves, time and talent for the benefit and enjoyment of us all.

Watch for information about the November 2013 performances
of Madam Bovary: Ho Ho Ho

Come on out and see a show!

Jim McGiffin
From left to right, Tanya Pino, Esquire, and Jim McGiffin, Esquire, on stage in a Lex Lyrica production of Macbeth.
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