Gadsden production of “To Kill a Mockingbird” not affected by legal threat

Gadsden production of “To Kill a Mockingbird” not affected by legal threat
Ritz Theater in Gadsden, Ala. (Source: WBRC Staff)

GADSDEN, AL (WBRC) - The show will go on for a Gadsden production of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” despite a legal threat.

Mike Beecham, the in-house director of the Theater of Gadsden, says “To Kill a Mockingbird” was one of three plays with Alabama themes chosen for the 2019 season, in honor of the state’s bicentennial. The others are “The Miracle Worker” and a gospel music show, “Looking for a City.” All three were sanctioned by the Alabama 200 Committee. Beecham said the current Broadway version had nothing to do with the decision.

However, the producers of the Broadway version, which stars Jeff Daniels, are threatening legal action to stop smaller theater groups across the country from performing the play.

Producer Scott Rudin threatened injunctions, saying they had exclusive permission from the Harper Lee estate. As a result, theater groups in Salt Lake City, Dayton, Ohio, and Buffalo, New York, called off their performances.

On Sunday, Rudin announced a compromise, saying they could put on their shows as long as they use the version adapted for Broadway by Aaron Sorkin. Sorkin is best known for creating the NBC-TV series “The West Wing,” and for writing the screenplays for movies such as “A Few Good Men” and “The Social Network.”

The Theater of Gadsden’s director, Mike Beecham, says their production will go on as scheduled next week, however. But they’ll use that original version, adapted by Christopher Sergel and licensed by The Dramatic Publishing Company (DPC), which many of the other theater groups used, and not the one adapted by Sorkin.

“We would have to go back through an entire rehearsal process,” Beecham said. “It’s a totally different script, it’s written totally different from a different viewpoint. It would be just like starting over with a new show.”

Beecham says the legal threat only applies to theater groups within a 25 mile radius from a major metropolitan area, and Gadsden is 62 miles from Birmingham. The actual language reads, “...within 25 miles of cities that had a population of 150,000 or more in 1960 while a ‘first-class dramatic play’ based on the novel is playing in New York or on tour.” He says Theater of Gadsden hasn’t received a cease and desist notice probably for that reason.

For now, the rehearsals continue at Theater of Gadsden’s home, the Ritz Theater.

“We’re moving ahead, we’ll be opening on Friday, March 15th, just like planned,” Beecham added.

For more information, you can visit the Theater of Gadsden’s website.

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