Review Roundup: See The Critics Verdict On TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD On Broadway
Based on an event that occurred in Alabama in the 1930s, Harper Lee's enduring story of racial injustice and the destruction of childhood innocence centers on one of the most beloved and admired characters in American literature, the small-town lawyer Atticus Finch.
Jeff Daniels leads a cast which includes Celia Keenan-Bolger, Will Pullen, Gideon Glick, Frederick Weller, Gbenga Akinnagbe, Stark Sands, Dakin Matthews, Erin Wilhelmi, Phyllis Somerville, Liv Rooth, LaTanya Richardson Jackson, Danny Wolohan, and Neal Huff.
To Kill A Mockingbird has scenic design by Miriam Buether, costume design by Ann Roth, lighting design by Jennifer Tipton, sound design by Scott Lehrer, casting by Daniel Swee, and is produced by Scott Rudin, Barry Diller, and Lincoln Center Theater.
Let's see what the critics had to say!
Jesse Green, The New York Times: These are two worthy ideas, if contradictory. In light of racial injustice, accommodation seems to be a white luxury; in light of accommodation, justice seems hopelessly naïve. Perhaps what this beautiful, elegiac version of "To Kill a Mockingbird" most movingly asks is: Can we ever have both?
Michael Dale, BroadwayWorld: Without knowing any better, one might easily mistake the new stage adaptation of Harper Lee's Pulitzer-winning 1960 novel "To Kill A Mockingbird" for a revival of a classic Golden Age Broadway drama. So earnest in tone and full of plainspoken poetics is Aaron Sorkin's thoroughly engaging text. So old-school honest are the performances given by director Bartlett Sher's 24-member cast, beautifully framed with an eye toward rural artistry by designers Miriam Buether (sets), Ann Roth (costumes) and Jennifer Tipton (lights).
Thom Geier, TheWrap: Where Sorkin succeeds is in getting us to rethink an American classic without any fussiness or archness. Director Bartlett Sher, who's best known for his Tony-winning work on big musicals like "South Pacific" and "My Fair Lady," strikes the right balance between the epic and the intimate. And he smartly mimics the breakneck pace of Sorkin's film and TV projects, cramming Lee's large and sprawling story in a production that runs just over two and a half hours but seem to just fly by. Despite its infelicities, this "To Kill a Mockingbird" is crackerjack entertainment.
David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: Perhaps the most notable achievement of this thoughtful adaptation, and Bartlett Sher's meticulously calibrated Broadway production, is that it takes Harper Lee's 1960 novel - a modern American classic that pretty much all of us know either from studying it in high school or watching the outstanding 1962 film version - and makes us hang on every word as if experiencing the story for the first time.
Matt Windman, amNY: In any event, "To Kill a Mockingbird" (which also sports a period score penned by Tony winner Adam Guettel and played live on organ and guitar) proves to be an engrossing, provocative and uniformly well-acted adaptation - and a fitting addition to a shifting Broadway landscape where an increasing number of plays (including "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child," "The Ferryman" and "Network") are gaining the muscularity to stand alongside musicals in prestige and box office power.
Adam Feldman, Time Out New York: If Sorkin's adaptation lacks the subtlety and plain-spokenness of Lee's novel, it has moments of old-fashioned power-the playwright knows how to set up a court scene-and others of surprising tenderness, as when he briefly takes the fatherless Dill under his wing. ("You have no business being kind, but there you are," he tells the boy.) As perhaps befits material that has been a high-school mainstay for decades, this To Kill a Mockingbird has many teachable moments, perhaps a few too many. But it does-and I mean this as a compliment-a very decent job.
Charles McNulty, LA Times: Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird" will gratefully always be with us. This is Sorkin's version and, for all the distortions and limitations, it finds ways through Atticus' character to speak directly to our troubled times about the inseparability of race and justice in America. I look forward to future productions from female and African American perspectives that can match this level of theatrical excellence, but they too will be incomplete.
Marilyn Stasio, Variety: Against all odds, writer Aaron Sorkin and director Bartlett Sher have succeeded in crafting a stage-worthy adaptation of Harper Lee's classic American novel "To Kill a Mockingbird." The ever-likable Daniels, whose casting was genius, gives a strong and searching performance as Atticus Finch, the small-town Southern lawyer who epitomizes the ideal human qualities of goodness, tolerance and decency. Celia Keenan-Bolger, best remembered for "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" but grown up now, is smart, funny, and entirely convincing as Scout, Atticus's precocious 6-year-old daughter and the narrator of the story. The rest of the large and very fine cast perform their parts with all their hearts, under Sher's impeccably fine-tuned direction.
Alexis Soloski, The Guardian: It's here that Sorkin has most directly intervened, expanding the roles of Tom Robinson (Gbenga Akinnagbe) and Atticus's black housekeeper, Calpurnia (LaTanya Richardson Jackson), so that the white voices aren't the only ones heard. These moves can't really disguise a story about a white savior who sees more and knows more than the people around him. (White saviors - lawyers, newsmen, a president - are big with Sorkin.) The gestures toward the present day - mostly reminders that racism stems from feelings of inequality and economic insecurity - aren't especially necessary or helpful.
Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune: Aaron Sorkin's genuinely radical and thoroughly gripping new Broadway adaptation of this iconic novel - which opened Thursday night at the Shubert Theatre with Jeff Daniels in the starring role - has no truck with the heroic image of Atticus, his wide-eyed daughter Scout and the famous Finch briefcase, a stand-in for the slow march toward justice, all striding together into a new American dawn. No siree. Sorkin has written a "Mockingbird" that fits this riven American moment. And the director, Bartlett Sher, has felt little need to assuage with sentimentality.
Greg Evans, Deadline: Perhaps Sorkin and Sher felt the play needed Bob's extra villainy to justify Atticus' eventual out-of-character breakdown, the moment when the play's questioning of the book's '60s-vintage liberal ideal comes most fully into focus. If so, they should have trusted their material and Daniels' convincing performance. By the time Atticus comes to question his own moral code, and Sorkin has us contemplating the limits of tolerance and the boundaries of forgiveness, this Mockingbird has already landed its punches.
Chris Jones, NY Daily News: Aaron Sorkin's genuinely radical and thoroughly gripping new Broadway adaptation of this iconic novel - which opened Thursday night at the Shubert Theatre with Jeff Daniels in the starring role - has no truck with the heroic image of Atticus, his wide-eyed daughter Scout and the famous Finch briefcase, a stand-in for the slow march toward justice, all striding together into a new American dawn. No siree. Sorkin has written a "Mockingbird" that fits this riven American moment. And the director, Bartlett Sher, has felt little need to assuage with sentimentality.
Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly: The answer to that question, after seeing the lush new production at New York's historic Shubert Theater, feels like an impressed, qualified yes. While Lee's vivid snapshot of the Great Depression-era Deep South is its own valuable time capsule, the shifting sands of race and justice in America (and all the things that haven't changed, depressingly, in the more than eight decades since) is well served by at least some new perspective. And the Emmy- and Oscar-winning Sorkin - ratatat duke of dialogue, reigning king of the walk-and-talk - does feel like a smart choice to drag it all into the 21st century.
Terry Teachout, The Wall Street Journal, Christopher Sergel's workmanlike 1991 stage adaptation of "Mockingbird," a regional-theater staple that I saw done three years ago by Florida's Orlando Shakespeare Theatre, is both truer to the book and far more dramatically effective. Moreover, that company's small-scale staging, sensitively directed by Thomas Ouellette, was superior in every way to Bartlett Sher's overblown, over-designed Broadway version, which is devoid of credible local color (hardly anybody on stage acts or sounds as if they've ever traveled much farther south than Cleveland). Mr. Daniels, a fine actor whom I suspect has been disserved by his director, paints Atticus with the coarsest of brushes, though the sad truth is that save for Adam Guettel's homespun incidental music and a handful of strong performances, most notably by Mr. Akinnagbe and Dakin Matthews, who plays the judge, nothing about this "Mockingbird" is any good at all. Shame on Harper Lee's estate for letting it happen.
David Cote, Theater News Online: For all that, the production, staged with fluid intelligence by Bartlett Sher, offers a night of engaging storytelling by a corps of fine actors. Atticus may preach and sermonize, but Daniels maintains a crusty detachment that saves the character from sanctimony or idealized virtue. Keenan-Bolger is always a vibrant, aching presence on stage, and Glick's willowy Dill adds grace notes of humor and whimsy to the proceedings. For a season that has included the dubious, overstuffed bustle and flash of The Ferryman and Network, at least Mockingbird comes by its theatrical effects honestly: with solid language and earnest moral problems.
Elisabeth Vincentelli, Newsday: What's missing from Aaron Sorkin's new adaptation is the novel's vividly described community, or the sense that the story is just as much about Scout's coming of age as it is about the crusade by Atticus, her father. Sorkin (the writer behind "The West Wing" and "The Social Network," among others) has made his play a John Grisham-esque legal thriller revolving around a charismatic man. Atticus may now show hints of trouble and doubt, but he's still the moral lighthouse guiding Maycomb, Alabama.
Joe Dziemianowicz, The New York Post: Daniels turns in the finely tuned, down-to-earth performance we've come to expect from him: It's a very Jeff Daniels kind of portrait. Yet his courtroom scenes course with raw emotion and scenes at home pack genuine sweetness. And if he doesn't quite make Atticus Finch his own, the way Peck did, well, who could? Less successful is the busy staging, with actors often pushing around scenery as the story moves from porch to courthouse, jailhouse and back again, and a sitcom-y judge who seems to have strayed from "The Andy Griffith Show." Parking a guitarist and organist on either side of the stage, underscoring the action, is more distracting than affecting.
Elysa Gardner, New York Stage Review: Mockingbird's lessons may seem obvious, but like so many on offer at this moment, they also come across as depressingly timely and necessary. By acknowledging that need in a straightforward, utterly unpretentious manner, accompanied by blazing artistry, Sorkin, Sher and their cast and collaborators have given us a production that feels as urgent and eternal as its source.
Steven Suskin, New York Stage Review: The not inconsiderable controversy that has surrounded the Broadway adaptation of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird since it was authorized by the author shortly before her death in early 2016 has been convincingly resolved at the Shubert. Concerns about whether the script by Aaron Sorkin supports or subverts the novelist's intentions are instantly allayed, with the audience held in rapt attention throughout. This stage Mockingbird is majestically triumphant.
Sara Holdren, Vulture: Bartlett Sher and his designers have created a shifting, breathing, gorgeously orchestrated world, and while the top-billed Jeff Daniels is indeed lighting up the stage as the story's iconic lawyer, every member of the ensemble shines alongside him. As a company, under Sher's careful and majestic direction, they are incandescent.
Tim Teeman, Daily Beast: Daniels' Atticus is folksy and ruffled, without Peck's idealistic though hardened eye. He keeps his head down. He doesn't want to confront anything. Daniels plays him as a man in eternal retreat, even if he is confronting racism in its most dangerous form. Daniels' Atticus is there and also absent, while everyone around him wants him to look up, be present, take a more obvious stand.