Sixty-two years have passed since Harper Lee released the classic novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
The novel found instant success as it won the Pulitzer Prize for capturing issues of rape and racial inequality.
Nearly a half-century later, producer and writer Aaron Sorkin took a chance to put the production on Broadway.
It was going to differ from the book and the 1962 film featuring Gregory Peck.
“To Kill a Mockingbird” opened on Nov. 1, 2018, and holds the record as the highest-grossing American play in Broadway history.
On Feb. 26, 2020, “To Kill a Mockingbird” became the first-ever Broadway play to perform at New York’s Madison Square Garden, in front of approximately 18,000 New York City public school students, also marking the largest attendance at a single performance of a play ever in world theater.
It will begin an eight-performance stand at Popejoy Hall beginning Tuesday, Dec. 13, and running through Sunday, Dec. 18.
Set in Alabama in 1934, Lee’s enduring story of racial injustice and childhood innocence centers on one of the most venerated characters in American literature, small-town lawyer Atticus Finch.
The cast of characters includes Atticus’s daughter Scout, her brother Jem, their housekeeper and caretaker, Calpurnia, their visiting friend Dill, and a mysterious neighbor, the reclusive Arthur “Boo” Radley.
The other indelible residents of Maycomb, Alabama, are Bob Ewell, Tom Robinson, prosecutor Horace Gilmer, Judge Taylor and Mayella Ewell.
Once Richard Thomas heard that Sorkin was working on the production, he wanted to be a part of the national tour.
Thomas landed the role of Atticus Finch on the tour.
“I let it be know that I wanted to tour,” Thomas says during an interview while in San Diego. “This is my third national tour. This one is special because we waited two years for it to come back. Theater was hit hard during the pandemic. When I got the invitation, it got shut down and we waited. I was ready for it to be canceled.”
Thomas was ready to step into Finch’s shoes.
He knew it was going to be a challenge because the character is so well-known.
“People have read the book in school and they think of the movie as well,” Thomas says. “The audiences come in with an idea of the play and it’s different. My great joy in this part is Aaron Sorkin has taken Atticus Finch off the pedestal. He’s very human and Atticus has a journey on the loss of innocence. He’s a very teachable Atticus and his vision of the world is broken down.”
Yaegel T. Welch portrays Tom Robinson, who is a Black man standing trial.
“It’s a privilege to tell this kind of narrative,” Welch says of the production. “It’s current. Tom might be a fictional character, but there are nameless people from the Jim Crow Era who aren’t recognized. I get to pay homage and tell their story.”
Welch says though the story was written more than 60 years ago, society’s needle has moved but not enough when it comes to racial injustice.
He mentions George Floyd, Eric Garner and Breonna Taylor, all who were killed by police officers.
“Nothing is done by the law to protect them,” Welch says. “The needle hasn’t moved enough and within the last four years, we’ve seen certain things rear its head again. It’s been made clear that racism never really left. It was dormant for awhile. People who are bigoted know that there is a community that feels the same way. We’re forced to confront it in a real way.”
Welch says he wanted to be a part of the production because Sorkin focused the play on Robinson’s character.
“It’s about racism but from the lens of the people,” he says. “Aaron gives us a moment where we can make people think. You definitely want to know from the people who are bearing the brunt of it all. Aaron gives us the change.”