NEW YORK — Harper Lee is traveling to Broadway, and Aaron Sorkin is providing the vehicle.
The late author’s seminal American novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” is being adapted by Sorkin for a production to be directed next season by Bartlett Sher (“Oslo”) and will feature Jeff Daniels — the star of Sorkin’s HBO Series, “The Newsroom” — as lawyer Atticus Finch. The show, co-produced by Scott Rudin and Lincoln Center Theater, is to begin performances Nov. 1 at a theater to be announced.
The producers on Thursday identified other members of a sprawling cast for a play that is bound to be one of the cornerstone events of the 2018-19 Broadway season. The players include Celia Keenan-Bolger (who’ll portray Scout); Stephen McKinley Henderson, Gideon Glick, LaTanya Richardson Jackson, Frederick Weller, Will Pullen, Stark Sands, Dakin Matthews, Gbenga Akinnagbe, Phyllis Somerville and Liv Rooth. The original music will be composed by Adam Guettel; Ann Roth will design the costumes, Jennifer Tipton the lighting and Miriam Buether the set. (Sorkin’s version is being billed as a “new play, based on” Lee’s novel.)
The announcement is noteworthy on a number of levels, not the least of which is that Lee’s 1960 novel remains a lightning rod in American culture and a prescient account of racial tensions in the South, even 57 years after its publication. Narrated by Scout, it recounts a case that Atticus, a small-town Alabama lawyer, takes on, defending a black man accused of rape. The novel, a staple of English class curriculums for generations, is sometimes banned by school boards, apparently because of Lee’s frank discussions of race and sexuality. The Broadway mounting is also an exceptional event because it’s a large-cast production of a heretofore untested stage drama — an extreme rarity these days for the nation’s most prominent theatrical platform.
“We just finished two full labs of Aaron’s play, both directed by Bart, and both with this entire cast,” Rudin said in a statement. “It’s an extraordinarily rare occurrence that you can build a play on the people who will ultimately be in it, but that is what we were lucky enough to do. … It’s a huge tribute to both Aaron and Bart [Sher] that everybody we asked to be in the production also cleared their schedules to jump into a very beefy lab process with us, especially so far in advance of the play’s production.”
Rudin added that Daniels was the first and only choice to play Atticus. “We never talked about anybody but Jeff, from the very first conversation Aaron and I ever had about doing this together,” the producer added. “He’s a theater animal like Fredric March was a theater animal, or [Jason] Robards, or George [C.] Scott.”