1 year ago

Review: Sorkin’s Broadway adaptation of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ doesn’t betray Harper Lee’s novel, definitely worth seeing

NEW YORK – Many feared for the worst when news broke earlier this year that an Aaron Sorkin stage adaptation of Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” would be opening on Broadway.

In this highly polarized political environment, I shared a suspicion that the Coastal elites behind this production would use Lee’s classic novel to perversely attack President Donald Trump or advance the latest hot-button left-wing cause du jour.

Yet, the temptation to go and find out what form this might take, however, was too much for the Alabamaphile in me to pass up.


So, ticket in hand, I set one rule for myself. Given my political leanings and general disgust for liberal virtue-signaling, I avoided reading the reviews from the professional Broadway watchers and media types.

Why is this presentation of Harper Lee’s signature work important? Obviously, there is the “To Kill a Mockingbird” cult following. More importantly, the novel and its companion “Go Set a Watchman” are important historical documents for the State of Alabama. Lee’s works are, to date, the best offering of life in rural 1930s and 1940s Alabama.

How would entertainment industry heavyweights like screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, producer Scott Rudin and lead actor Jeff Daniels disseminate that history to the tens of thousands who will see this production?

According to the Los Angeles Times’ Nardine Saad, Sorkin’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” has already grossed a record of nearly $1.6 million after its first full week and has an advance of more than $22 million in ticket sales.

Getting to this point wasn’t that easy for Sorkin and producer Scott Rudin. Back in March, Harper Lee’s estate sued Rudin. Lee estate attorney Tonja Carter raised concerns that the script deviated too much from the novel, and thus was in violation of an original agreement to put the story on Broadway.

In the end, the two sides quietly settled their dispute and nine months later, “To Kill a Mockingbird” opened at the Sam S. Shubert Theatre on West 44th Street in midtown Manhattan.

The 7 p.m. day-after-Christmas showing at the theater was a full-house affair, as are most of the shows from now until April. The show isn’t the usual out-of-town fare for tourists you might see at the nearby theaters showing “Frozen” or “Phantom of the Opera.”

The idea of “To Kill a Mockingbird” on Broadway for some may conjure a notion of a musical. Rest assured, Scout and Jem are not singing show tunes in this adaptation.

For the most part, the intellectual integrity of Lee’s novel remains intact. To fully appreciate this show, one would have to be familiar with the “To Kill a Mockingbird” story, which on its own is complex. Sorkin’s version is not chronological, and it isn’t entirely told from the viewpoint of protagonist Scout Finch, the narrator in Lee’s novel.

Sorkin takes his liberties with some of the characters. Calpurnia, the Finch family housekeeper, played by actress LaTanya Richardson Jackson, is much more of an outspoken critic of the racially divided society in Maycomb, Alabama, the setting for the story.

Dill, played by actor Gideon Glick, takes a slightly different form from the character portrayed in the novel and in the 1962 “To Kill a Mockingbird” film. He is more of an older version of Truman Capote than the childhood friend who is believed to be Lee’s basis for the character of Dill.

The hero of the tale Atticus Finch is played by Jeff Daniels, who has reinvented himself as more than just the guy from “Dumb and Dumber” over the last decade. At times, it is a struggle to watch Daniels, who hails from Michigan, pull off a southern accent. Otherwise, his portrayal of Atticus Finch, very much different from Gregory Peck in the 1962 film, works for this setting.

‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ lead actor Jeff Daniels signs autographs outside Shubert Theatre, 12/26/2018 (Jeff Poor/YHN)

It’s a respectable and professionally done production, as one should expect for any major Broadway show.

As for going out of the way to make a grand proclamation about current affairs, Sorkin does not do that. Antagonist Bob Ewell doesn’t put on a “Make America Great Again” ballcap or anything like that.

Sorkin, however, does make Bob Ewell, played by Frederick Weller, a more hateworthy figure, this time as anti-Semitic, in addition to being drunk and racist.

Other than these few wrinkles, Sorkin is true to Lee’s original story in the “To Kill a Mockingbird” novel. It has comedic elements, but they’re not over the top and don’t detract from the seriousness of the story.

However, one can’t help but wonder if Sorkin was using the end of the play to lay out a different path for Atticus Finch than what was in Lee’s “Go Set a Watchman,” which for some of the theatergoers tainted Harper Lee’s legacy.

If you are planning a trip to New York City and were on the fence about seeing it, it’s worth seeing. It is sure to be more thought-provoking than the bulk of the Disney-ified offerings currently showing on Broadway.

It is not an indictment of modern-day Alabama, nor of conservatives or who conservatives elect. Given American pop culture in 2018, that’s saying something.

On a side note:

As with any of these Broadway spectacles, there are “To Kill a Mockingbird” souvenirs available for purchase at the theater, but this list comes with one curiosity.

In addition to “a portion” of the proceeds from the sales going to the Monroe County Public Library in Monroeville, “Trayvon Martin” and the Montgomery-based Southern Poverty Law Center also receive a share.

Souvenir price list at the ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ showing on Broadway (Jeff Poor/YHN)

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and is the editor of Breitbart TV.

16 mins ago

Doug Jones to host second annual HBCU summit at Miles College

Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) is inviting Alabamians to his second annual HBCU summit. The 2020 version of the summit will be at Miles College in Fairfield on February 14.

The event will have a student career and employment opportunities from across Alabama in addition to two panels moderated by Alabama’s junior senator.

Doug Jones has made championing Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) one of the cornerstones of his time in the U.S. Senate.

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In 2019, Jones took to the Senate floor to say, “HBCUs are the leading educators for African American PhDs in science and in engineering. They are foundational to building generational wealth in communities that have long faced headwinds in doing so. They are doing amazing work. ”

Alabama is home to 14 HBCUs. Jones helped guarantee the continuance of their federal funds by co-sponsoring the FUTURE act with Senator Tim Scott (R-SC). The bill was signed in to law by President Donald Trump in December 2019.

The effort received praise from the leaders of Alabama’s HBCUs, many of whom will be joining Jones for the two panels during his summit.

The two panels, as follows:

Women in the Lead: How Six Alabama HBCU Presidents Are Raising the Bar
Dr. Patricia Sims, President, Drake State Community College
Dr. Cynthia Warrick, President, Stillman College
Dr. Martha Lavender, President, Gadsden State Community College
Ms. Bobbie Knight, Interim President, Miles College
Ms. Anita Archie, Interim President, Trenholm State Community College
Dr. Shirley Friar, Chief of Staff, Tuskegee University
Moderator: Senator Doug Jones

Student Voices: How Alabama HBCU Student-Leaders Are Lifting Up Their Campuses
featuring student representatives:
Miss Keila Michelle Lawrence, Miles College
Mr. Jacobi Gray, Alabama A&M University
Miss Arin Massey, Shelton State Community College
Mr. Amani Myers, Talladega College
Mr. Dakus Sankey, Jr., Trenholm State Community College
Moderator: Senator Doug Jones

Those interested in attending the summit can go here.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

1 hour ago

Birmingham marketing firm tapped for Super Bowl ad

Birmingham-headquartered marketing firm Big Communications has made a Super Bowl ad promoting the Fox broadcast of the 2020 Daytona 500.

The firm was tasked with making the ad by Fox Sports’ marketing team. When the ad airs on Sunday, it will be the first time in Big’s 25-year history that one of their ads will broadcast during the Super Bowl, which is the advertising industry’s biggest event of the year. Recent Super Bowls have averaged around 100 million American television viewers.

Blake Danforth, vice president of marketing for Fox Sports, credits Big’s award-winning work on Valvoline’s Never Idle campaign with piquing his interest in the firm.

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In a statement, Danforth said, “Big’s creative team had a genuine understanding of exactly what makes NASCAR fans love the sport with such an unrelenting, unrivaled intensity.”

“Promoting something as huge as the Great American Race on the biggest stage in all of advertising — that’s kind of a big deal,” commented Ford Wiles, Big partner and chief creative officer.

“This is the kind of moment that we live for — putting Alabama’s talent on display for the world to see,” Wiles concluded.

You can view Big’s Super Bowl ad here.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

2 hours ago

Monument to gold star families will be added to Huntsville’s Veterans Memorial

The Huntsville-Madison County Veterans Memorial, a park on the north side of Huntsville’s downtown area, will be adding a monument to gold star families in 2020.

Gold Star families are those who have lost a member during service in the United States Armed Forces.

The monument is the final planned addition to the veterans memorial, a project that was first dedicated on 11/11/2011. Its origin dates back to 2000 when a half-sized replica of the Vietnam memorial was temporarily displayed in Huntsville. Some residents wanted something more permanent.

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“The Veterans Memorial has been erected not to commemorate the glory of battle or triumph of victory, but to honor the service and sacrifice of our veterans, and to pay homage to those heroes we have lost,” said Brigadier General (Retired) Bob Drolet, chair of the Huntsville-Madison County Veterans Memorial Foundation.

The monument to the gold star families is designed and aided by the Hershel “Woody” Williams Medal of Honor Foundation, a foundation that has helped install similar monuments across the United States. To date, the group has placed 59 monuments across 45 states.

An identical monument was recently announced for installation in Mobile.

The primary sponsors of the Huntsville installation are Mike and Christine Wicks.

The Gold Star Family Memorial to be installed in Huntsville will be the first of its kind in Alabama.

The four panels on the back of the monument will read, “Homeland, Family, Patriot, and Sacrifice.”

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

3 hours ago

Bruce Pearl praises religious freedom in Alabama — ‘I can live here in Auburn and practice my faith’

Speaking to members of the media Monday on Holocaust Remembrance Day, Auburn University head basketball coach Bruce Pearl lauded the religious freedom he enjoys living in the state of Alabama. He also called for unity and spoke strongly against anti-Semitism.

Pearl last spring became the fourth Jewish head coach in NCAA history to take a team to the Final Four. He was the first president of the Jewish Coaches Association.

“Today has always been a difficult day for me as it Holocaust Remembrance Day,” the coach said on Monday in the opening statement of his press availability.

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“I was born in 1960, 15 years after we opened up the gates in Auschwitz and discovered the atrocities,” he continued. “We vow to never let that happen again to anyone. Anti-Semitism is a terrible thing. As a Jewish man, I’ve lived with it my whole life and I’ve seen its ugly face many times.”

Pearl explained, “That’s why I’m so blessed to live in this country where there is great religious freedom. I can live here in Auburn and practice my faith.”

“The great challenge for me has always been that we are brothers. We are all brothers. We are all sisters. We are all related,” he outlined. “Abraham had two sons: Isaac and Ishmael. That makes us brothers because we have the same father – Abraham the father of many nations. Jesus was born a Jew and he died a Jew. That makes me brothers with my Christian brothers. If we can focus on that, whether you agree with it or not, that’s not my point. The point is we have a lot more in common than we have apart. We should celebrate those. We should never tolerate racism or something like anti-Semitism. What I would ask you all to remember is: never again.”

RELATED: Bruce Pearl slams AOC for ‘concentration camps’ tweets: ‘Attempt to rewrite the Holocaust’

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

3 hours ago

Ivey previews 2020 State of the State — ‘Challenges to address’

MONTGOMERY — Speaking at a gathering of the Alabama Council of Association Executives at Montgomery City Hall on Tuesday morning, Governor Kay Ivey gave a glimpse of her top priorities heading into the 2020 state legislative session.

The session gavels in at noon this coming Tuesday, February 4 — seven days from Ivey’s remarks. Her 2020 State of the State Address will follow the start of the session that evening, before President Donald Trump’s State of the Union Address.

Ivey took to the podium Tuesday morning to an enthusiastic standing ovation.

“Already, 2020 is shaping up to be a pivotal year for our state and our people,” the governor said.

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While noting the “great things” going on with the Yellowhammer State’s record-breaking economy, Ivey added, “But y’all, we do have some work to do and some challenges to address.”

She urged everyone to tune into her State of the State Address next week for more specifics while broadly underlining some of the “challenges” she will discuss in that speech and tackle this year.

The governor listed “the upcoming Census, our prison concerns, healthcare, mental healthcare and education reform” as the top 2020 issues.

“2020 will be a make or break year regarding our Census. … I cannot emphasize enough the importance of having a full, accurate count in the 2020 Census,” Ivey stressed. “These numbers directly impact our representation in the United States House of Representatives and directly impact billions — with a ‘b’ — of dollars that come to our state, including funds for community programs, healthcare, education and job opportunities.”

“Ten years ago when we had the [last] Census, an estimated one million children went uncounted [in Alabama],” she continued. “Folks, we’ve got to close this gap and be sure that every person who’s living and breathing in Alabama completes a Census form and returns it — parents do it for their children. This is a must.”

Transitioning to her next priority, Ivey lamented, “Another large issue that has gone unaddressed in our state for decades is our heinous prison conditions.”

She acknowledged the state’s prison problems as “multifaceted and longstanding.”

In turn, Ivey said, a “multifaceted solution” will be needed.

“Y’all, this is an Alabama problem, and we’re going to have an Alabama solution for it,” the governor added. “It’s absolutely imperative we in the state of Alabama solve our prison problems. If we don’t, the Department of Justice will come in, take over, control the administration, control our funds … so failure is not an option.”

Ivey subsequently urged all Alabamians to vote “yes” on statewide Amendment One on March 3. She referred to this as the type of “bold action” needed to improve the state’s public education system.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn