Theatre Reviews
Photo by Julieta Cervantes, courtesy of The Fabulous Fox

The Aaron Sorkin adaptation of Harper Lee’s novel “To Kill A Mockingbird” opened on Broadway in December, 2018, with Jeff Daniels staring as Atticus Finch. If you think you’ve seen the show already, having read the book, or watched the movie, or ever seen a stage production, think again. Yes, the show follows the story of Finch, a lawyer in 1930s Alabama, as he defends Tom Robinson, a black man falsely accused of rape. However, varying from the book, this play has Atticus as the protagonist, not his daughter Scout, allowing his character to change throughout the show.

Scout still the narrator of the story, is joined by her brother Jem and their new friend Gill in the narration throughout the play. While this may sound like a subtle difference, the nuances become Herculean in their execution. You may just have to trust me on this. Sorkin is a master story weaver not just a story teller. I can only describe this production as a blanket woven by hand with home spun wool from sheep raised on your own farm and dyed with colors from vegetables you grew in your garden. It feels like yours. No. It feels like OURS. It is a call to our collective heart.  This latest adaptation is the most successful non-musical in Broadway history.

The national tour opened at the Fabulous Fox on February 28th. We begin with the mini-chorus of Scout (Melanie Moore), her brother Jem (Justin Mark), and their friend Dill (Steven Lee Johnson) discussing a newspaper article about Bob Ewell’s (Joey Collins) mysterious accidental death by falling on his knife. Scout isn’t buying it. The devised premise for the rest of the play becomes uncovering the truth that Scout determines started with THE TRIAL. The set, brilliantly conceived and executed by Miriam Buether, descends from above and emerges from the wings almost instantly becoming a 1930’s Alabama courtroom where Tom Robinson (Yaegel T. Welch) is on trial for the rape of white woman Mayella Ewell (Arianna Gayle Stucki). The chorus of Scout, Jem and Dill guide us back and forth throughout the play sharing the narration like a game of hot potato. The effect is at times whimsical and comedic but also sobering and thoughtful. Johnson is a standout in this trio and the character of Dill is much more substantial in Sorkin’s reworking than in the original version.

As the set transforms into the Finch house we meet Calpurnia, the Finch’s black housekeeper (Jacqueline Williams) whose character is expanded and given greater agency in this new edition. Williams is brilliant in her rendering of Calpurnia navigating the relationship with Atticus and calling him out on his hypocrisy. Tom Robinson’s character is also given greater voice and Welch is both heartbreaking and fierce in his portrayal of Tom.

Richard Thomas, who many audiences will remember as John-Boy from television’s “The Walton’s”, stars as Atticus Finch. Thomas is quite the theatre veteran with copious credits to his name. I found his performance somewhat lackluster apart from his closing arguments to the jury. In that moment the audience is in the palm of his hand and we hold our collective breath as he faces us and admonishes “we have to heal this wound or we will never stop bleeding.” In this moment I believe that we might actually get a not guilty verdict.

Fans of the 1962 film will see snippets of similarities and might get a thrill out of seeing Mary Badham, who played Scout in the movie, as Mrs. Henry Dubose. She is mean as a snake and plays it to a tee.

Ultimately, this new version of Harper Lee’s novel, set in 1930’s Alabama, written in 1960, is more relevant today than ever. “Let’s hasten the change” Atticus chants in his closing argument to us, the jury, deliberately facing the audience. This is a show well worth seeing whether a fan of the book or film or not.  “To Kill A Mockingbird” runs through March 12th at the Fabulous Fox. For tickets and information go to

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