Reviews

NYTimes Critics Pick badgeA Broadway ‘Mockingbird,’ Elegiac and Effective

As this is a trial, let’s have a verdict: To Kill a Mockingbird, which opened at the Shubert Theatre on Thursday, is not guilty.

JEFF DANIELS EMBODIES A MORE HUMAN ATTICUS FINCH

All rise for the miracle that is To Kill a Mockingbird on Broadway.

‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ AT SHUBERT THEATRE IS A GREAT AMERICAN PLAY

To Kill a Mockingbird is a great American story, and this production at the Shubert Theatre in Manhattan is a great work of American theater. As nearly everyone knows — from the 1960 novel as well as the 1962 movie — it’s about the Finch family in rural Alabama in the summer of 1934 and the evil of racism. A single father (Jeff Daniels) — it’s worth noting, if we’re collecting examples of contemporary relevance, that all the children in all the families in this play have only one parent — is raising his son, Jem (Will Pullen), his daughter, Scout (Celia Keenan-Bolger), and a visiting neighbor boy, Dill (Gideon Glick). The cast is powerfully, convincingly, alive, both in Scout’s memory as she narrates and for us as these actors fully inhabit their roles.

AARON SORKIN MAKES HIS MARK ON ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’

Adaptations of To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize–winning novel of race, prejudice and bravery in the American South, are rare. There was a film in 1962, starring Gregory Peck; Monroeville, Alabama, Lee’s hometown and the supposed setting for the book, runs a production in the courthouse each May. Both of these interpretations stay largely true to the original text, and are popular as a result. The film won Horton Foote a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar. Monroeville’s plays, allowing “attendees an opportunity to transport themselves back to the time of the book’s setting,” sell out.

‘MOCKINGBIRD’ IS STILL RELEVANT 60 YEARS LATER ON BROADWAY

Not long into this new To Kill a Mockingbird, a young girl considers what she’s just heard in a courtroom. “All rise,” says Scout, marveling at the weight of the words while imagining if people always went high instead of low.

‘TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD’ IS OF A HIGH STANDARD: BEAUTIFULLY DESIGNED AND LIT, WELL ACTED, AND WITH JUST THE RIGHT BALANCE OF PATHOS, HUMOR AND OUTRAGE

If you’ve read Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird — and if you grew up in the United States, there’s a good chance you have — the story now unfolding on Broadway may throw you a bit.

Aaron Sorkin’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ Adaptation Walks the Walk

“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what.” You won’t hear Atticus Finch say those words to his son Jem in the To Kill a Mockingbird now alighting on Broadway. The banners outside the theater proclaim, in all capital letters, “HARPER LEE’S TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD,” but the smaller print tells the truth: “A new play by Aaron Sorkin.”

‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ on Broadway: Harper Lee’s story is dragged into the present by Aaron Sorkin

Ever since Gregory Peck, the Tom Hanks of his moment, starred in the film version of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird in 1962, the small–town lawyer Atticus Finch has been a symbol of American decency. Not unlike Jimmy Stewart’s George Bailey, he’s been an emblem of how ignorance can only be banished through empathy. If you wanted to dismantle the systemic racism of the American South, argued the avuncular Atticus with every fiber of his genial being, you should do so by doing your job, having patience, sticking to the facts, working doggedly within the system and, above all, by being willing to walk a step or two in each individual’s shoes.

Broadway’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ is here, and Jeff Daniels soars as Atticus Finch

You’d be hard–pressed to come up with a shrewder choice for the role of Atticus Finch than Jeff Daniels. Daniels has played American vile (Terms of Endearment) and American vacuous (Dumb and Dumber), but he may be best at American virtue. Not the one–dimensional superhero variety, however; the wholesome qualities he projects are those of a person capable not only of action, but also of reflection. His gift for evoking tolerance is wrapped in charisma.

All Rise. A transfixing act of theatrical storytelling that makes us hang on every word as if experiencing the story for the first time

Jeff Daniels plays small–town Alabama lawyer Atticus Finch in Aaron Sorkin’s stage adaptation of the seminal Harper Lee novel about the festering racial divide in the Deep South.

Aaron Sorkin and Jeff Daniels Deliver An Atticus For Our Times

When Scout, Jem and Dill take the stage in Aaron Sorkin’s To Kill a Mockingbird, they’re not rolling a tire down the sidewalk or peering into the knothole of some old oak tree. The children — played, with no excuses offered or needed, by adults — appear in what seems to be an empty, dilapidated building, maybe an old courthouse fallen into neglect. Justice itself has become a thing of memory, its paint peeling.

AARON SORKIN SPELLBINDS BROADWAY

Aaron Sorkin’s To Kill a Mockingbird, courtroom drama that inspired its own courtroom drama, has finally arrived on Broadway. Can it fly? Yes.

AN IMPECCABLY FINE–TUNED ‘MOCKINGBIRD’

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.

HARPER LEE’S CLASSIC MAKES MAGNIFICENT THEATER

★★★★★ 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.

A TIMELESS FAVORITE, REVERED AND REBORN

★★★★★ “All rise,” a character says early in Aaron Sorkin’s new stage adaptation of Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird. It’s an instruction common to the courtroom, where much of the play takes place. But as those two words are periodically repeated throughout this extraordinary production, they also become a sort of mantra, an appeal — as plain and direct as any being made on Broadway right now — to our better angels, or whatever it is that elevates minds and souls tested by troubled times or base instincts.

‘TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD’ IS EXEMPLARY

The defense never rests in Aaron Sorkin’s adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird. That the play exists at all is an act of boldness: Turning Harper Lee’s 1960 novel into a play in 2018 is no easy task.

AARON SORKIN REVISITS HARPER LEE’S CLASSIC

The new stage version of To Kill a Mockingbird, which opened Thursday at Broadway’s Shubert Theatre, pairs two first–rate storytellers: Harper Lee, whose 1960 novel about racial injustice in 1930s Alabama became an instant classic, and Aaron Sorkin, whose gift for rat–a–tat dialogue, narrative restructuring and ripped–from–the–headlines plotting gets a full workout here.

‘TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD’ ACHIEVES THE UNIMAGINABLE — IT ENHANCES THIS GREAT WORK

When I heard that Aaron Sorkin’s stage adaptation of To Kill A Mockingbird featured changes to Harper Lee’s beloved story, I thought how dare they mess with a masterpiece. The kids’ roles played by adults! The Atticus Finch character flawed! Well, it turns out, far from killing the essence of the great work, this excellent company achieved the unimaginable: they enhanced it.

IN ‘TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD’ ON BROADWAY, THE WORDS OF HARPER LEE BUT THE VOICE OF AARON SORKIN

The marquee at the Sam S. Shubert Theatre blasts in big block letters “Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.” But all it takes is some slingshot dialogue to reveal that the new blockbuster Broadway adaptation belongs to Aaron Sorkin.

AARON SORKIN MODERNIZES, SORKIN–IZES ‘TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD’

The act of bringing Harper Lee’s iconic 1960 novel to Broadway began with its own kind of courtroom drama: Executors of Lee’s estate objected vehemently to certain liberties famed screenwriter Aaron Sorkin wanted to take with the material and brought a lawsuit; at one point, producer Scott Rudin even proposed staging the script in full for a federal judge.

AARON SORKIN’S RADICAL REMAKE OF ‘TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD’

However you feel about Aaron Sorkin’s adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird, which opened on Broadway tonight, you are most certainly not in Harper Lee’s original setting of Maycomb, Alabama, in 1933 to 1935; or the Maycomb as imagined by director Robert Mulligan when he made Lee’s 1960 novel into the 1962 movie, starring Gregory Peck as the unimpeachably principled and upstanding lawyer Atticus Finch.

AARON SORKIN DELIVERS WITH NEW PLAY

Had things turned out differently, one of the best plays in town might have debuted at a downtown courthouse instead of Broadway.

RETURNING TO BROADWAY
October 5