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The Reviews Are In: Jeff Daniels in ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ on Broadway

Category Broadway

|by Amy Sapp |


How did critics respond to Aaron Sorkin’s adaptation of Harper Lee’s legendary novel?

Now open at the Shubert Theatre, To Kill A Mockingbird has received an updated interpretation from Academy Award-winning screenwriter, playwright and director Aaron Sorkin. Starring Emmy Award-winner Jeff Daniels as Atticus Finch, To Kill A Mockingbird has set itself up for a successful run on Broadway.

But don’t just take our word for it. Read on for highlights from 10 critics’ reviews of Broadway’s To Kill A Mockingbird.

Jeff Daniels and Celia Keenan-Bolger in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ (Photo: Julieta Cervantes)

Jeff Daniels and Celia Keenan-Bolger in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ (Photo: Julieta Cervantes)

The New York Times
“As this is a trial, let’s have a verdict: To Kill a Mockingbird, which opened at the Shubert Theater on Thursday, is not guilty. Evidence shows that it does not deface the Harper Lee novel on which it is based, as the Lee estate at one point contended. And far from devaluing the property as a moneymaking machine… (The narration) no longer suggests long hazy childhood summers spent squashing redbugs and pondering why the world is evil so much as a Junior League police procedural…This is very effective; Mr. Sorkin apparently trusted that the actors, working with Mr. Sher, would fill in the blanks, and they do. (Having adults play the kids is especially helpful, and Ms. Keenan-Bolger is terrific.) Also effective, exhilarating even, are the interventions by which Mr. Sorkin set out to correct – or, let’s say, extrapolate – the novel’s politics for our time.”

Time Out New York
“Yet the effort is commendable, and the execution is exemplary. Directed by Bartlett Sher, the elegant production is stately but not stodgy; Miriam Buether’s simple set has just enough detail to suggest the outlines of a memory. (Jennifer Tipton’s lighting and Ann Roth’s costumes help flesh it out.) Daniels is a first-rate Atticus: thoughtful, patient, gently authoritative and appropriately troubled by the unchanging world around him. Three excellent adult actors – (Celia) Keenan-Bolger, (Will) Pullen and (Gideon) Glick – play the child characters-cum-narrators without preciousness, and Wilhelmi is heart-wrenching as the broken Mayella. The large, adept cast also includes Dakin Matthews as a sympathetic judge, Stark Sands as a canny prosecutor, Danny Wolohan as a frightening recluse and Neal Huff as a man who finds limited cover behind his reputation as a drunk.”

The New York Post
“Bartlett Sher, the ace behind the Tony-winning The King and I revival and Oslo, directs strong performances, especially from (Celia) Keenan-Bolger, whose Scout lights up the stage with warmth."

Variety
“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.”

The Hollywood Reporter
“Perhaps the most notable achievement of this thoughtful adaptation, and Bartlett Sher's meticulously calibrated Broadway production, is that it takes Harper Lee's 1960 novel – a modern American classic that pretty much all of us know either from studying it in high school or watching the outstanding 1962 film version – and makes us hang on every word as if experiencing the story for the first time. Sorkin, Sher and their estimable cast work together to give every significant figure on the stage a distinct identity without a whiff of cliché. That nuanced revivification of familiar characters is matched by a haunting sense of time, place and community, and yet the bridge to our own era is implicit. This is not starchy masterpiece theater; it's very much alive and emotionally impactful.”

The Guardian
“…this Mockingbird is a superbly entertaining and handsomely acted event. Sorkin has structured the play around the courtroom drama, which gives the action force and drive. (In Miriam Beuther’s set, both the courthouse and Atticus’s house flit in and out of a barn.) And yes, he and Bartlett Sher, a director of real moral seriousness, have included some Sorkinesque walking and talking. That talk is abounding and energetic, especially when delivered by Celia Keenan-Bolger, Will Pullen and Gideon Glick, the actors playing the children.”

Entertainment Weekly
“But does the world really need a woke Mockingbird? The answer to that question, after seeing the lush new production at New York’s historic Shubert Theatre, feels like an impressed, qualified yes. While Lee’s vivid snapshot of the Great Depression-era Deep South is its own valuable time capsule, the shifting sands of race and justice in America (and all the things that haven’t changed, depressingly, in the more than eight decades since) is well served by at least some new perspective. And the Emmy- and Oscar-winning Sorkin – ratatat duke of dialogue, reigning king of the walk-and-talk – does feel like a smart choice to drag it all into the 21st century.”

The Wrap
“Where Sorkin succeeds is in getting us to rethink an American classic without any fussiness or archness. And director Bartlett Sher, who’s best known for his Tony-winning work on big musicals like South Pacific and My Fair Lady, strikes the right balance between the epic and the intimate. And he smartly mimics the breakneck pace of Sorkin’s film and TV projects, cramming Lee’s large and sprawling story into a production that runs just over two and a half hours but seems to just fly by. Despite its infelicities, this Mockingbird is crackerjack entertainment.”

Deadline
“What Sorkin does require, though, is an open mind, a willingness to question the things we so admired about Lee’s tale and its characters, to hold their lessons up for scrutiny in an age when so little of what we once took for granted can withstand the heat. He demands no less of his characters, keeping us in good company from start to finish.”

New York Daily News
Aaron Sorkin's genuinely radical and thoroughly gripping new Broadway adaptation of this iconic novel – which opened Thursday night at the Shubert Theatre with Jeff Daniels in the starring role – has no truck with the heroic image of Atticus, his wide-eyed daughter Scout and the famous Finch briefcase, a stand-in for the slow march toward justice, all striding together into a new American dawn…But Sorkin did have to add agency to the African-American characters whom Lee gave little voice. Most notably, Calpurina (LaTanya Richardson Jackson) now takes down Atticus in his own kitchen, acquiring much of his moral centrality, schooling him in what are, for her, the painful and personal consequences of his own gentility. And the long-silent Tom Robinson (Gbenga Akinnagbe) now speaks – and not of Atticus as his savior.”

For more of the best of Broadway, check out our list of the Top Shows in New York in December 2018

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