The saga of “To Kill a Mockingbird” at Salt Lake City’s The Grand Theatre — and whether Aaron Sorkin’s now-on-Broadway script will be performed there — has reached the cliffhanger moment of the plot.
The issue is whether The Grand can stage Sorkin’s new version of the beloved story, after being forced to cancel its production of an older adaptation.
“We would need to see a copy of the script,” said Seth Miller, executive artistic director of The Grand, on Wednesday. “I don’t know what the show is.”
Miller said Wednesday that he has not yet talked to representatives of Broadway producer Scott Rudin about his offer to let a handful of regional theaters use Sorkin’s new adaptation of the Harper Lee novel.
Rudin made the offer Friday to defuse a public-relations nightmare for his Broadway production, which began over a dispute about the licensing of Lee’s beloved story. Rudin’s company claims exclusive stage rights to “To Kill a Mockingbird;” it argued that its contract with Lee’s estate precluded another theatrical licensing company, Dramatic Publishing, from allowing productions of an older adaptation in metropolitan areas.
At least eight regional theater groups, including The Grand, had signed with Dramatic Publishing to produce the older “To Kill a Mockingbird” this spring. Rudin’s lawyers sent letters to those theater groups, threatening expensive legal action if they staged “Mockingbird.” Most cancelled, though one in Massachusetts moved the production to a rural theater to avoid restrictions on performing the show too close to a big city.
The Grand’s production was 10 days into rehearsals — with costume fittings and set design underway — when Miller and the play’s director, Mark Fossen, told the cast on Feb. 16 that the show would not go on.
Word spread among theater fans about the regional cancellations, and the news ultimately landed last Friday on the front page of Broadway’s hometown paper, The New York Times. The news added to the bad publicity the production received when Lee’s estate threatened legal action over the way Sorkin, creator of TV’s “The West Wing” and screenwriter of “A Few Good Men” and “The Social Network,” depicted the story’s main character, Alabama lawyer Atticus Finch.
After the Times article ran, Rudin softened his stance. He offered the use of Sorkin’s script, without a fee, to the theater companies that received letters from Rudin’s lawyers.
One problem for The Grand, Miller said, is that it’s not known whether Rudin’s offer has an expiration date.
If the time window is wide enough, Miller said, “we could produce the show next season, and bump another show that we were hoping to do, or do it the year after. It depends on how long the offer is good for.”
If the offer is only for the time a troupe was originally going to perform “To Kill a Mockingbird,” which for The Grand was from March 21 to April 6, the logistics would be more difficult.
There wouldn’t be enough time to recast, rehearse and mount a full production on short notice — and a stripped-down version, like a staged reading, “would be difficult for us to pull together,” Miller said.
“Even a reading would be hard for us to pull together now, because we don’t have a cast,” Miller said. “Without seeing the script, we don’t even know where to begin casting.”
Miller understands the rarity of Rudin’s offer, and the pressure it puts on his theater. “The Grand probably would never get the chance to be the regional premiere of a show like this otherwise,” he said.
While a decision on “To Kill a Mockingbird” is up in the air, Miller still has a theater to run — and he must find ways to make up for the estimated $20,000 loss that the cancellation caused. The Grand’s current production, the romantic musical “First Date,” was given a two-week extension, and will now end this Saturday. The Grand’s next production, of the musical “West Side Story,” doesn’t open until May 16.