For the second time in as many years, the curtain is landing hard on The Grand Theatre’s attempts to stage “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
Seth Miller, the Grand’s artistic and executive director, announced Tuesday that the production of Aaron Sorkin’s adaptation of the Harper Lee novel — set for March 26 to April 11 at The Grand, at 1575 S. State St. — is being suspended, out of concern for the coronavirus.
Miller expressed thanks to the play’s cast and production team. “They have all worked so hard, and I am so proud of the show they have created,” Miller wrote.
The production was a rare opportunity for a small local theater to produce a play that — before the coronavirus outbreak — was filling seats on Broadway. The Grand was given the opportunity to produce the adaptation by Sorkin, the Oscar- and Emmy-winning writer of “The Social Network” and “The West Wing,” after a dispute over an older theatrical version of “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
The Grand had scheduled to perform the older version, by Christopher Sergel, last spring. Then a legal battle flared up between Lee’s estate, the New York production company Rudinplay, and Dramatic Publishing, the company that held the rights to the Sergel version. Rudinplay had claimed it held all theatrical rights to Lee’s story, and sent legal notices to regional theaters producing the old version — including The Grand — to stop.
After the dispute was reported in The New York Times, producer Scott Rudin made an about-face, and offered those regional theaters the chance to produce the new version. Miller put it on this season’s schedule, 17 months before the national touring production, starring Richard Thomas as the Alabama lawyer Atticus Finch, would arrive at the Eccles Theater.
Sorkin’s version “is looking at [Lee’s novel] with a much more contemporary view,” Mark Fossen, The Grand production’s director, said before Tuesday’s cancellation.
Actress/singer Dee-Dee Darby-Duffin, who was to play the maid Calpurnia in both versions at The Grand, said before Tuesday’s cancellation that the Sorkin version was remarkable because “you see Atticus Finch as less black-and-white. What Sorkin has done is make him this real character, who’s relatable.”
Miller said in his statement that The Grand hopes to produce “To Kill a Mockingbird” in a future season, and has asked the play’s licensing agent for an extension on the rights to perform the play.
The Grand, Miller said, aims to produce its spring musical, Mel Brooks’ “The Producers,” scheduled to debut May 13 — but that will depend on the spread of the coronavirus.