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‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ won’t reopen on Broadway

Writer Aaron Sorkin’s acclaimed stage adaptation shutters amid controversy with producer Scott Rudin, who was accused of abusive behavior last year

Jeff Daniels takes a bow during curtain call after the opening night of “To Kill a Mockingbird” at the Shubert Theatre on Dec. 13, 2018, in New York. (Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images for “To Kill a Mockingbird”) (Slaven Vlasic)

“To Kill a Mockingbird,” writer Aaron Sorkin’s acclaimed stage adaptation of Harper Lee’s 1960 novel, will not return to Broadway after all. Amid a wave of coronavirus infections on Broadway this past winter, and after the Jan. 2 departure of Jeff Daniels as Atticus Finch, the show was put on hiatus Jan. 16, with the intention to bring it back later this year. The most recent plan was to reopen at New York’s Music Box Theatre on Nov. 2.

But late Thursday, Sorkin and Bartlett Sher, the play’s director, sent a letter to the cast and crew, saying they were “heartbroken” to announce that the show would not return, despite months of planning. They blamed producer Scott Rudin, who still owns rights to the play, and who, according to Sorkin and Sher, stopped the play from reopening.

“Bart and I, as well as our agents and lawyers, tried everything we could think of to overcome the obstacle and get the play back on its feet. We couldn’t do it,” Sorkin wrote in the message, which was obtained by The Washington Post. “[We] mourn the loss of all the jobs — onstage, backstage, and front of house — that just disappeared, … we mourn the loss of a great show, and of our chance to reconvene and reconnect over this extraordinary production we all know has changed our lives and the lives of everyone who has come to see it.”

A resonant ‘Mockingbird’ recalls American racism then — and now

The Broadway show, which opened at Shubert Theatre in 2018, was a pre-pandemic hit. Retelling Lee’s beloved novel centering on the trial of Tom Robinson — a Black man in 1930s Alabama who is wrongly accused of rape — with an emphasis on Robinson’s lawyer, Finch, the play had been lauded for dealing with racism in a more nuanced way than its source material did. It became the top-grossing American play in Broadway history, bringing in more than $40 million in 27 weeks and was nominated for nine Tony Awards. (Celia Keenan-Bolger won for her portrayal of Finch’s daughter, Scout.) In the years since, the show has gone on a national tour and a production has opened in London’s West End.

But recently, the Broadway production had been hampered by controversy related to Rudin, who faced allegations of abusive behavior, detailed in a Hollywood Reporter story last year. In response to the allegations, Rudin stepped away from his productions, including “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “The Book of Mormon.” Last year, “West Side Story,” another Rudin-produced show, also did not reopen as planned.

In their letter, Sorkin and Sher said that Rudin had “reinserted” himself as a producer at the last moment. “For reasons which are, frankly, incomprehensible to us both, he stopped the play from reopening,” they wrote. Rudin attributed the decision to financial concerns, saying in an email to Sorkin and Sher that he had a “lack of confidence in the climate for plays next winter,” and didn’t believe “that a remount of Mockingbird would have been competitive in the marketplace,” according to the New York Times.

Sorkin and Sher had been working on the show with producer Orin Wolf, who was installed after Rudin’s departure, and whom they credited in their letter for getting the production ready to reopen. Their relationship with Rudin had soured months earlier. In September, Sorkin told Vanity Fair that he had experienced his own instances of a “higher class of bullying” by Rudin, but refrained from commenting further, saying the producer “got what he deserves.”

In the Hollywood Reporter story, Rudin is described as “unhinged.” The producer is said to have once slammed a computer monitor on an assistant’s hand hard enough to draw blood — one among several so-called “tantrums” described in the piece.

The truths ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ tells about white people

The decision to shutter Broadway’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” will not affect the national tour, which came to D.C. earlier this summer, nor will it affect shows at London’s Gielgud Theatre, where it debuted in March of this year.

The news comes as Lee’s original “To Kill a Mockingbird” storyline has come under scrutiny, with some schools removing the book from their curriculums, citing the characterization of Finch as a “White savior.” In the play, Sorkin divides the narration between three adult characters — Scout; her brother, Jem; and their best friend, Dill, looking back on the past — and creates a more complex portrayal of Finch. The Post’s theater critic, Peter Marks, praised the show when it opened on Broadway, writing that Finch “is wrenched from his faith in the goodness of humankind toward a more sober assessment of the limits of human decency.”

In a 2018 interview with the Hollywood Reporter, Sorkin spoke about his changes to the story: “In the book you’ve got a guy who’s got all the answers,” he said, “and in the play you’ve got a guy who’s wrestling with the questions.”