Review: To Kill A Mockingbird At Seattle’s Paramount Theatre

to kill a mockingbird

Tom Robinson on the stand: Richard Thomas (“Atticus Finch”), Yaegel T. Welch (“Tom Robinson”) and The Company of To Kill a Mockingbird (Photo by Julieta Cervantes)

To Kill A Mockingbird
October 11 – 16, 2022 Seattle’s Paramount Theatre
Get more info and tickets here.

To Kill A Mockingbird is one of the greatest books of American literature. Despite its ‘controversy’, and the fact that it is constantly recommended for banning by the ignorant, To Kill A Mockingbird is consistently proclaimed one of the top three greatest American books ever written. Now this beloved book has been put onto the stage in a new production by Aaron Sorkin, and is currently playing at the Paramount Theatre.

There are those moments in life that push us away from being a child and forces us to start becoming young adult. This is about two of those moments; one in public, and one in private. It is a story about growing up, and learning the world (and our families) are not perfect. It is Alabama in 1934. Scout and her brother Jem are the two children of widower Atticus Finch, a top attorney and ‘the nicest, most gentle person’ in the county. Atticus is very fair with his children and does his best to teach them morals, ethics and right from wrong. When Tom Robinson, a local man of color is accused of raping Mayella Ewell, a dirt-poor Caucasian girl, Atticus is asked to defend the man. Atticus accepts knowing that his representation is probably the only way that Tom will get a fair trial. He takes the case having faith that while his fellow Alabama citizens may still have their prejudices, justice would still prevail. Meanwhile, the children make a new friend in Dill, a boy staying with relatives for the summer. The three children decide to try and fish out the local recluse Boo Radley, a person that has become a local legend and boogeyman for the residents of Maycomb, Alabama. Between the trial, and their own determination to see Boo, the children learn the greatest lessons of their lives; right and wrong are never where you expect them to be.

The cast is excellent, and all do a good job of showing the personalities of a small town’s ignorance and prejudice in the South. Jacqueline Williams plays “Calpurnia”, the black housekeeper to the Finch family. Ms. Williams plays the role as a silent counterpart to the head of the household. Her spoken role is small, but her strong presence is notable.

The helm of the show is Atticus Finch played by Richard Thomas. Mr. Thomas gives the attorney a calm, even-keeled demeanor. He does a good job showing Atticus as the moral, fair man trying to teach his children to live ethical lives. It sometimes comes off as nonchalance until his anger finally gets stoked during the climax of the courtroom scenes. Then we see how Mr. Thomas adds Atticus Finch to the roster of the many beloved roles that he has played.

The main stars are the three children, Dill, Jem and Scout. All three children play part-time narrator of the show as they explain, through their eyes, the life-changing events of the summer. Steven Lee Johnson plays Dill. Dill (based on Harper Lee’s childhood friend Truman Capote) is more the comic relief of the trio. He adds comedy and a balance to the careful upbringing of his counterparts. Justin Mark plays Jem, the eldest child of Atticus. Mr. Mark does a great job of showing Jem’s struggle of growing up. He lets the audience see the conflict of wanting to do what’s ‘right’ (as his father tries to teach) and the frustrations of teenage rebellion. Melanie Moore plays Scout, the unofficial star of this production. Ms. Moore does an excellent performance showing how the childhood admiration for her father changes when she sees him torn in moral, ethical and legal conflicts. It is through her eyes that the audience is shown the story. It is in her eyes that the audience sees what is right isn’t always what is done, and what is considered to be wrong can often be the right choice.

A special shout out and acknowledgment goes to Ms. Mary Badham, playing Mrs. Henry Dubose. Ms. Badham holds the honor of playing “Scout” in the 1961 film version of To Kill A Mockingbird. She was, at the time, the youngest person ever nominated for an Academy Award (in the subject of Best Featured Actress).

Calpurnia and Scout: Melanie Moore (“Scout Finch”) and Jacqueline Williams (“Calpurnia”). Photo by Julieta Cervantes

This production of To Kill A Mockingbird is not the first production on stage. This is newly conceived version for the theatre. This version focuses on Atticus and the trial of Tom Robinson more than the adventures of the children. The trial overshadows every other part of the story. Arthur “Boo” Radley is an important part of the book, and of the children growing up. In this version his story is secondary, and reduced to a phantom character that seems an afterthought in the retelling of this tale. The beautiful mystery of who is placing items in the tree trunk, and why, are breezed over and brushed aside. The climactic comment “Hey Boo” becomes a throwaway line in what should have been the dramatic conclusion of the show. There is no great ‘reveal’, and the revelation is more like a slowly burning ember that finally goes out. Other changes made to the script are meant to update it, and make it more current to reflect today’s society and racial tension. There’s really no need for these changes since that’s a main theme of the book in the first place. There is a “passive-aggressive” interaction between Calpurnia and Atticus. When it is revealed what it is about, it seems recognizably an out of place discussion for 1934; poignant and truthful, yes, but still noticeably out of place none-the-less.

To Kill A Mockingbird is an important part of American culture. It shines a light on prejudicial ugliness and racial injustice as well as the juxtaposition of the loss of childhood innocence. While some of the language may seem ‘offensive’ to today’s audience, it is an accurate representation of racial viewpoints in the South – both then, and (unfortunately) in the current time. The language is important to addressing these situations and revealing their ugliness. Those that want to ban this book have missed Atticus Finch’s meaning when he says: “Mockingbirds… don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

This new production of To Kill A Mockingbird opened on Broadway on December 13, 2018. It was closed, like so many others, during the Covid pandemic and the curtain finally fell on January 16, 2022 after 626 performances. It was nominated for 9 Tony Awards and won Best Featured Actress for Celia Keenan-Bolger, who played Scout. It is based on the book by Nell “Harper” Lee (published 1960) and has been called ‘one of the most beloved American books’ by a plethora of credited sources. It went on to win the Pulitzer Prize. A film version was released in 1962 and won three Academy Awards including Best Actor – Gregory Peck (Atticus Finch).

To Kill A Mockingbird
October 11 – 16, 2022 Seattle’s Paramount Theatre
Get more info and tickets here.

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Eric Andrews-Katz

Eric Andrews-Katz

Eric Andrews-Katz has short stories included in over 10 anthologies. He is the author of the Agent Buck 98 Series (“The Jesus Injection” and “Balls & Chain”), and the author of the Greek myth series beginning with the novel TARTARUS. He has conducted celebrity interviews with some of the biggest and best names on Broadway, Hollywood and in literature. He can be found at:

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