Mockingbird on Broadway will go on after lawsuit settlement

(Image: HarperCollins Publishers)

NEW YORK (AP) — The Broadway production of “To Kill a Mockingbird” will open in December after a lawsuit that threatened to shut down the production was settled Thursday.

The deal was announced in a joint statement from producer Scott Rudin’s production company, Rudinplay, and the estate of the late author, Harper Lee. Lawyers declined to elaborate.

It came three days after a judge in Alabama ordered a lawsuit filed there to be transferred to New York. The judge said it appeared Rudinplay had followed the terms of a 2015 contract in giving the estate a chance to meet with producers about its complaints.

Lee’s estate sued in Alabama federal court in March, saying screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s script wrongly alters Atticus Finch, a noble attorney, and other book characters.

Rudinplay countersued in New York in April, demanding $10 million in damages and saying the lawsuits threatened to shut down the production.

The play, to be directed by Bartlett Sher and featuring Jeff Daniels as Finch, will begin previews on Nov. 1 with opening night scheduled for Dec. 13 at the Shubert Theatre.

U.S. District Judge Analisa Torres in Manhattan had scheduled a June 4 trial for the legal dispute after lawyers for Rudinplay said last month that the dispute needed urgent attention because actors were beginning preparations with rehearsals scheduled to start Sept. 1.

The resolution Thursday likely was influenced by a written ruling issued Monday by U.S. District Judge William H. Steele in Mobile, Alabama. He granted a request to move the lawsuit to New York, noting that most of the witnesses and evidence were located there. He also criticized the estate for how it responded to Rudinplay’s invitation to work through the estate’s complaints.

He said the contract required that if the estate believed the play violated the novel’s spirit or altered its characters, then Rudinplay should give the estate an opportunity to discuss its concerns.

Yet, the judge said, Lee attorney Tonja Carter “spurned this good-faith invitation to meet and discuss her concerns with Rudinplay.”

“Instead, she rushed to court and precipitously filed the instant complaint just four days later, on March 13, 2018, in what certainly appears to be an attempt to shirk contractual duties and beat Rudinplay to the punch,” he said.

The settlement negated the chance that the first performance of the play might occur in a courtroom. Steele had noted that a judge might find it “beneficial, or even necessary” to see the play before deciding whether it unfairly portrayed characters in the book.

“The ‘character of Atticus Finich’ in the play is comprised not solely of the lines of dialogue he speaks, as memorialized in a script, but also includes body language, demeanor, tone of voice, inflection, appearance, and numerous other facets that may only be discerned from viewing an actor’s portrayal of that character in the play,” Steele said.