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'To Kill A Mockingbird' Broadway show plays at MSU Wharton Center

October 9, 2023
<p>Atticus Finch, played by Richard Thomas, in the courtroom during the "To Kill a Mockingbird" play. Photo courtesy of Julieta Cervantes from the Wharton Center.</p>

Atticus Finch, played by Richard Thomas, in the courtroom during the "To Kill a Mockingbird" play. Photo courtesy of Julieta Cervantes from the Wharton Center.

The stage adaptation of Harper Lee's novel, "To Kill a Mockingbird" ran at Michigan State University's Wharton Center from Oct. 3 until this past Sunday, Oct. 8.

Last Wednesday, Greater Lansing residents and MSU students gathered to watch the Broadway play's opening show at 8 p.m. The play lasted roughly three hours, with a 15-minute intermission.

The show also featured many acclaimed cast members, including Emmy winning actor Richard Thomas, who plays Atticus Finch, Maeve  Moynihan, Jacqueline Williams and Justin Mark. 

Richard Thomas was extremely happy with the turnout of opening night. Thomas said he thinks moving to various theaters and cities across the country allows the show to “stay alive.”

As the main protagonist, Thomas did many things to prepare for the role.

“Every part requires some different preparations," Thomas said. "Primarily in the research – which included watching the shows in New York, rereading the novel, constantly going over the script and memorizing at least a few pages every day."

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Atticus Finch, played by Richard Thomas, and Tom Robinson, played by Yaegel T. Welch, in the courtroom scene. Photo courtesy of Julieta Cervantes from the Wharton Center.

The most important part of knowing his character, Thomas said, was understanding the the context of Southern history.

“Two things that were very important to me were the depth of our production as a whole, especially for my performance being particularly southern,” Thomas said. "And the research."

Thomas said immersing himself in the character, along with the social justice aspects of the play, has made his "To Kill a Mockingbird" role especially significant to him.

“I can’t think of a better story to tell across the country right now than this story, which is always our story,” Thomas said. “Right now, after this wonderful resurgence of the social justice movement after George Floyd’s murder, it’s really been fantastic to be telling the story of exactly this moment."

Though this story has always been important to tell so people can learn from themselves, Thomas said, this play creates a space to engage with social justice issues in a "new and fresh way." 

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Calpurnia, played by Jacqueline Williams, and Scout, played by Maeve Moynihan, on the porch. Photo courtesy of Julieta Cervantes from the Wharton Center.

Jacqueline Williams, who plays Calpurnia, said she didn't have to prepare long to understand the character and her struggles because the discrimination in Calpurnia's life mirrors her own. 

“My family is from the south, so I am all too familiar with Jim Crow," Williams said. "All too familiar with just life in the south, and all too familiar with racism and prejudices and domestic life and services." 

Williams said the play focuses on the constant struggles minorities and people from marginalized communities face.

“Sadly, we still need this play," Williams said. "We have made very little progress. Before COVID, it was very easy for a lot of people to turn a blind eye and say, ‘Oh, I don't see that. Oh, I haven't read that article or that latest happening of injustice.'"

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Scout, played by Maeve Moynihan, Jem, played by Justin Mark and Dill, played by Steven Lee Johnson, discover the new dolls. Photo courtesy of Julieta Cervantes from the Wharton Center

Justin Mark, who plays Jeremy “Jem” Finch, said audience reactions are always different. In hopes of sparking conversation among families and friends, Mark said, he wants the audience to understand the lasting importance of the play.

“I'm super excited to be performing there, and I'm super excited to be performing for people who have never seen the movie or read the book,” Mark said. “I think the story is brilliant, and it will be even more entertaining if you have never seen it before or don't know what the story is.”

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Williams said that overall, he hopes theatergoers who see the play will reflect on social issues and how they can act better in the future. 

 “Trying to understand each other will take us a long way,” Williams said. 

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Jem, Atticus, Dill, Scout and Calpurnia gather on the porch. Photo courtesy of Julieta Cervantes from MSU's Wharton Center.

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