Producers of ‘Mockingbird’ Play Settle With Lee Estate

MANHATTAN (CN) – Foreclosing the chance that Aaron Sorkin’s Broadway adaptation of “To Kill a Mockingbird” would see a courtroom preview, producers and the estate of Harper Lee announced Thursday that they settled their artistic differences.

“The production will proceed on schedule, with opening night set for December 13, 2018, at the Shubert Theater,” Lee’s estate and Rudinplay noted this afternoon in a joint statement.

FILE – In this Aug. 20, 2007 file photo, author Harper Lee smiles during a ceremony honoring the four new members of the Alabama Academy of Honor at the Capitol in Montgomery, Ala. The will of “To Kill a Mockingbird” author has been made public following a lawsuit by The New York Times, but details on her estate remain a secret. The will unsealed Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018, shows most of Lee’s assets were transferred into a trust days before her death two years ago in her hometown of Monroeville, Ala. But the contents of her estate remain private because trust documents are private. (AP Photo/Rob Carr, File)

Represented by attorney Tonja Carter, Lee’s estate took the theater company owned by Hollywood producer Scott Rudin to court this past March, claiming that the Sorkin-penned adaptation of “Mockingbird” strayed too far from the spirit of the 1960 classic.

In addition to its alteration of five characters, and introduction of two new ones, Carter complained that the play failed to accurately depict Alabama in the 1930s.

While Carter brought her lawsuit in Mobile, Ala., Rudinplay brought its own lawsuit last month in Manhattan, claiming Carter had “rendered it impossible for the play to premiere as scheduled.”

“Unless this dispute is resolved in the immediate future,” Rudinplay warned, “the play will be canceled.”

But the play seemed destined to meet at least one audience when U.S. District Judge William Steele noted Monday that the merits of the case “may require the finder of fact to view a live presentation of the play itself.”

The deep South setting of the novel boded well for Alabama-based Steele to get that viewing. To  the judge’s likely dismay, however, he noted that most of the witnesses and evidence are in New York.

Since moving the stage production over 1,000 miles for a trial would be “cost-prohibitive, massively inconvenient, and in all likelihood logistically impossible,” Steele granted a motion by Rudinplay to send Carter’s case north.

That push led three days later to the case’s settlement, ensuring the public will not get a look at Jeff Daniels as Atticus Finch until previews of the play open on Nov. 1.

“To Kill a Mockingbird” won the 1961 Pulitzer Prize in fiction. Its author, Harper Lee, died in 2016. The play by Sorkin and Rudinplay is directed by Bartlett Sher.

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