NEW YORK (Reuters) – Almost 60 years after it was first published as a book, “To Kill a Mockingbird” opens this week in a first Broadway theater adaptation whose themes of racial injustice are just as relevant today.
Yet writer Aaron Sorkin says despite the book’s familiarity as a beloved classic of American literature and movies, audiences are in for something different.
“Thirty seconds in and you’re just in a different place watching ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ the way you’ve never watched it before,” said Sorkin, the creator of political TV series “West Wing,” and who wrote the stage adaptation.
The Broadway version, opening on Thursday, stars Jeff Daniels as the upstanding small town white lawyer Atticus Finch who takes on the case of a black man wrongfully accused of rape in the Depression-era south.
The play was the subject of a bitter lawsuit earlier this year in which the estate of author Harper Lee accused Sorkin and the producers of deviating too much from the beloved 1960s novel and tying the play too closely to today’s social climate. Lee died in 2016 at age 89.
The dispute was settled in May without either side giving details. According to those who have seen the play in preview, one difference in the stage adaptation is allowing the main black characters more opportunities to speak up than the novel.
“Racism has been with us since the beginning of America, and then here it is again,” said Daniels. “What the play does is speak to that a little bit – that tolerance of trying to look away when it happens.”
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President George W. Bush (R) before awarding the Presidential Medal of Freedom to American novelist Harper Lee (L) in the East Room of the White House, in this November 5, 2007. REUTERS/Larry Downing
“To Kill a Mockingbird” has sold more than 50 million copies worldwide and was made into an Oscar-winning movie in 1962, starring Gregory Peck as Finch. It has been produced for the stage in various U.S. cities and in London but this is the first time “Mockingbird” has come to Broadway.
Gbenga Akinnagbe, who plays accused rapist Tom Robinson, said the circumstances faced by his character are still happening in courtrooms across the United States.
“So, it doesn’t feel like a period piece to me. It doesn’t feel like a period piece other than the clothes,” Akinnagbe said.
Reporting by Reuters Television; Editing by Marguerita Choy