Richard Thomas (“Atticus Finch”) and The Company of To Kill a Mockingbird. Photo by Julieta Cervantes
Academy Award-winner Aaron Sorkin’s modern adaptation for the stage brings Harper Lee’s seminal work To Kill a Mockingbird from a roaring Broadway run here to Saint Louis at the Fabulous Fox (527 N. Grand Blvd.), focusing the original novel’s rich material through a modern lens for a contemporary audience. Many of the original themes of racial prejudice and the courage to stand against it resonate in a different way against the modern political and societal backdrop of 2023.
In the original source novel and classic film adaptation, Atticus Finch fills the role of patriarch and quiet moral compass. Screen actor Jeff Daniels, who brought a soft conviction to the original role of Atticus, was nominated for Tony for his performance. Needless to say, Richard Thomas, who has replaced him in this traveling production, has some very large loafers to fill. Early reviews say that Thomas (best known for his portrayal as John-Boy in the 1970s TV drama The Waltons, though seen more recently on Ozark and The Americans) gives the character a worn-down weariness that distinguishes his Atticus from Daniels’ and also the iconic and unflappable portrayal famously embodied by Gregory Peck in the original film adaptation. Thomas brings a dry desperation to the role: both a man who wants to believe in the greater good of individuals but also one who struggles with the reality of the system and the people of a small town who are all too quick to embrace their basest prejudices.
The real protagonist, of course, is young 13-year-old Scout, the daughter of Atticus and the point of view character we experience the world through. Much like Harris, the actress for Scout (Melanie Moore) has big shoes to fill. Celia Keenan-Bolger’s Tony Award-winning portrayal of Scout in 2018 set the precocious youngster as naïve and trusting and Moore’s portrayal is reportedly no less endearing and tomboyish.
With sparse stage design and utilitarian lighting, the show is committed to the source material, adding little flair. A greater focus is presented on the courtroom drama as Tom’s trail unfolds. Truly there are few shows that resonate so deeply against the modern milieu. In the aftermath of the nation’s racial reckoning of 2020 prompted by the police killing of George Floyd, To Kill a Mockingbird has taken on a new and unexpected resonance. Even if you’re familiar with the original material, I would highly recommend taking another look at this adaptation. | Joseph C. Roussin
To Kill a Mockingbird runs through March 12th. For showtimes or to purchase tickets, visit https://www.fabulousfox.com/events/detail/mockingbird.