Hollywood producer, theaters spar over “To Kill A Mockingbird”

It has the makings of a courtroom drama Harper Lee might’ve liked: Big-shot movie producer Scott Rudin is pressuring small theaters around the U.S. to stop stage adaptations of the author’s beloved novel, “To Kill A Mockingbird,” or face the legal consequences. At least one local theater owner is unbowed.

Rudin, perhaps wary of being cast as the villain, appeared to take a step back Friday, offering to give local local theaters the right to proceed — so long as they present his version of the play currently appearing on Broadway. 

The producer has faced mounting public criticism and calls for boycotts after his attorneys sent cease-and-desist letters to dozens of theater companies over their productions of “Mockingbird.”

“In an effort to ameliorate the hurt caused here, we are offering each of these companies the right to perform our version of To Kill a Mockingbird, Aaron Sorkin’s play, currently running on Broadway,” Rudin told The Hollywood Reporter. 

Guarding Harper Lee’s legacy?

Rudin, 60, is known for producing films including “No Country for Old Men,” “The Social Network” and “Lady Bird.” He has also won 15 Tony awards for shows like “The Book of Mormon” and “Hello, Dolly!”      

The producer contends that Lee, who died in 2016, previously signed over to him exclusive worldwide rights to the title of the book. According to Rudin, that means his current adaptation on Broadway, written by screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, is the only version that may legally be performed. Rudin’s lawyers had threatened to charge community theaters who breached those rights $ 150,000.  

“To Kill a Mockingbird” comes to Broadway

Only theater companies that had already negotiated rights to “Mockingbird” through The Dramatic Publishing Company are allowed to perform the Sorkin version of the play, according to Rudin. Many of the smaller production companies had already constructed stages, sold tickets and rehearsed the play, paying the DPC $ 100 per performance for rights to an older stage version of the Lee book. 

The show must go on

After Rudin’s initial legal threat, a number of small theaters pulled the plug on their productions of “Mockingbird.” One theater company, the Mugford Street Players in Marblehead, Massachusetts, decided to proceed with its adaption after another local theater, Gloucester Stage Company, offered to put it on. 

“It’s a great American story,” said Mugford artistic director John Fogle. “It’s really so relevant today.”

The Broadway show starring Jeff Daniels as Alabama lawyer Atticus Finch opened in November and is not expected to license regional rights to the script for another two or three years, said The Hollywood Reporter. 

The Broadway production is expected to start a North American tour soon. 

“Letting these theaters do it now is a substantial give for us, obviously, because it’s really not in our interest to have the play out anywhere but on Broadway right now,” Rudin told The Hollywood Reporter.  

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MoneyWatch – CBSNews.com

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