Aaron Sorkin’s adaptation of “To Kill a Mockingbird” — a prodigious Broadway hit this season — will begin a two-year national tour with a launch at the Kennedy Center in August 2020, the show’s producers and the center announced Thursday.
Rarely does a straight play generate the audience appeal to allow it to vie on the road with the passel of musicals old and new that routinely make the rounds of the country’s arts centers and commercial theaters. But “To Kill a Mockingbird,” based on Harper Lee’s beloved novel, has been performing more like a musical, smashing box office records at Broadway’s nearly 1,500-seat Shubert Theatre and boasting advance sales at the moment of more than $22 million.
Sorkin, author of plays such as “A Few Good Men,” screenwriter of “The Social Network” and creator of TV’s “The West Wing,” said in a phone interview that “Mockingbird’s” success “is something of a much greater magnitude” than any of his previous stage work. “The critical response, the size of the whole thing. But most important to me is the way it is landing with audiences.”
“To Kill a Mockingbird’s” life on the road will begin Aug. 25, 2020, in the Eisenhower Theatre and remain for five weeks, until Sept. 27, as one of the capstones to the Kennedy Center’s 2019-20 season. Incidentally, it will reside at the arts center concurrently for a spell with a blockbuster in the Opera House: the return of the tour of “Hamilton,” which will reprise its 2018 engagement here with a stop in Washington from June 16 to Sept. 20, 2020.
Scott Rudin, “Mockingbird’s” lead producer, said the Kennedy Center was a natural choice for the tour’s kickoff. “It’s a political play being put in a political context,” he said. “It’s a play that deals with the central issues of American history, which is why it has mattered for 60 years.”
Other highlights of the Kennedy Center’s 2019-20 theater season, revealed Thursday, include another premiere — the national tour of Lincoln Center Theater’s current hit “My Fair Lady” (Dec. 17-Jan. 19, 2020, in the Opera House); visits by tours of “Come From Away” (Dec. 10-Jan. 5, 2020, in the Eisenhower, and previously seen at Ford’s Theatre); and “Once on This Island” (June 23-July 12, 2020, in the Eisenhower). The center will also offer a new production of Cheryl Strayed’s play “Tiny Beautiful Things” (June 2-28, 2020, in the Terrace Theater).
For the center’s hugely popular Broadway Center Stage series, the program in the Eisenhower that curates musicals-in-concert from decades past, next season’s entries are: “Footloose” (Oct. 9-13); the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Next to Normal” (Jan. 29-Feb. 2, 2020), starring Tony winner Rachel Bay Jones; and “Bye Bye Birdie” (April 22-26, 2020.)
If the Broadway experience is any indication, demand for tickets to “Mockingbird” will be enormous. (A dispute with amateur companies across the country that were staging an earlier adaptation of the novel was resolved after producer Rudin gave those groups the rights to Sorkin’s version without charge.) As it did with “Hamilton,” the Kennedy Center advises that the best method of guaranteeing seats is by purchasing a season theater subscription. Single tickets to the production will go on sale next year, according to a center spokesman.
The tour of “To Kill a Mockingbird” will be directed, as it was on Broadway, by Bartlett Sher (who also directed “My Fair Lady.”) Casting for the road company is underway, but the show’s relationship with the nation’s capital starts sooner — this coming Monday and Tuesday, in fact. That’s when Sorkin and members of the Broadway company, including Jeff Daniels, who portrays the story’s hero, Atticus Finch, will be in Washington at the invitation of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
In Washington, the cast will present selections from the play for local schoolchildren at the Library of Congress, hosted by the Educational Theatre Association, with Pelosi as the special guest. At a dinner in Washington on Monday, the production will present a $10,000 college scholarship to Brannon Evans, a high school senior from Omaha who won a Democracy Works essay contest.
For Sorkin, meanwhile, the success of his dramatization has taken the anxiety-producing weight of history and fond memories of a novel off his shoulders.
“It was a relief,” he said, “that I didn’t ruin anyone’s childhood.”