On Stage Extra: ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ at Kimmel

By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times

Richard Thomas as Atticus Finch

“To Kill a Mockingbird” is an American classic – in many ways.

It is an American classic as a novel.

It is an American classic as a movie.

It is an American classic as a Broadway play.

“To Kill a Mockingbird” is a novel by the American author Harper Lee, which was published in 1960 and was instantly successful in the United States. Widely read in high schools and middle schools, “To Kill a Mockingbird” has become a classic of modern American literature. In 1961, when “To Kill a Mockingbird” was in its 41st week on the bestseller list, it was awarded the Pulitzer Prize.

The book was made into the well-received 1962 film with the same title, starring Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch. The movie was a hit at the box office, quickly grossing more than $20 million from a $2-million budget. It won three OscarsBest Actor for Gregory Peck, Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White, and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium for Horton Foote. It was nominated for five more Oscars including Best PictureBest Director and Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Mary Badham, the actress who played Scout.

“To Kill a Mockingbird” is a 2018 play based on the 1960 novel of the same name, adapted for the stage by Aaron Sorkin. It opened on Broadway at the Shubert Theatre on December 13, 2018. It received nine Tony Award® nominations and picked up a win in the Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play.

“To Kill a Mockingbird” holds the record as the highest-grossing American play in Broadway history. It began performances on November 1, 2018, at the Shubert Theatre and played to sold-out houses until the Broadway shutdown in March 2020. On February 26, 2020, “To Kill a Mockingbird” became the first-ever Broadway play to perform at New York’s Madison Square Garden, in front of approximately 18,000 New York City public school students, also marking the largest attendance at a single performance of a play ever in world theater.

The Kimmel Cultural Campus, in partnership with The Shubert Organization, is presenting the history-making production of “To Kill a Mockingbird” in a Philadelphia premiere engagement, July 12 – 24, 2022 at the Campus’ Academy of Music (240 South Broad Street, Philadelphia, kimmelculturalcampus.org.) Academy Award® winner Aaron Sorkin’s new play, directed by Tony Award® winner Bartlett Sher and based on Harper Lee’s classic novel, will come to Philadelphia as part of a multi-year national tour across North America.

Set in Alabama in 1934, Harper Lee’s enduring story of racial injustice and childhood innocence centers on one of the most venerated characters in American literature, small-town lawyer Atticus Finch. The cast of characters includes Atticus’s daughter Scout, her brother Jem, their housekeeper and caretaker, Calpurnia, their visiting friend Dill, and a mysterious neighbor, the reclusive Arthur “Boo” Radley. The other indelible residents of Maycomb, Alabama, are Bob Ewell, Tom Robinson, prosecutor Horace Gilmer, Judge Taylor and Mayella Ewell.

Starring in the critically acclaimed National Tour production are Emmy Award®-winning actor Richard Thomas as Atticus Finch, Melanie Moore as Scout Finch, Jacqueline Williams as Calpurnia, Justin Mark as Jem Finch, Yaegel T. Welch as Tom Robinson, Steven Lee Johnson as Dill Harris, Mary Badham and Delaware County native Greg Wood as Dr. Reynolds.

“The tour was scheduled to go out prior to the pandemic,” said Wood, during a phone interview last week from a tour stop in Washington, D.C. “Then, when the pandemic arrived, the tour was cancelled.

“For me, it all started back in January 2021. I was originally asked if I’d be interested, and I said yes. “Then, they asked me to audition in the fall of last year. A short while later, I finally got my acceptance.”

Wood grew up in Aston and graduated from St. James High in Chester. He stayed in Chester for college and majored in finance and economics at Widener University.

“I didn’t get into theater until after college,” said Wood. “I took acting classes at Hedgerow Theatre and then the company director Dolores Tanner asked me to join the company.

“Later, I auditioned for shows in Philly right at the time there was a theater renaissance. I worked at a lot of small theaters and had constant work.”

Wood’s recent regional theater credits include: “An Iliad” (Poet), “Cyrano de Bergerac” (Cyrano) at Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival; “The Best Man” (William Russell), “The Humans” (Erik Blake), “Noises Off” (Lloyd Dallas) at Walnut St. Theatre; “A Christmas Carol” (Scrooge), “Skylight” (Tom Sergeant) at McCarter Theatre Center; and “Once” (Da) at Arden Theatre.

Wood came into this production fresh with regard to theater productions.

“I didn’t get a chance to see ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ on Broadway,” said Wood. “I’m glad because I didn’t get influenced by it. It’s nice to know that we’re doing our own production.

“‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ has the draw of Harper Lee. A lot of people are coming out to see theater again. Aaron Sorkin is really excited about bringing this play to places that have banned the book.”

Not surprisingly, there are many school districts around America – especially in Florida and the South – that have banned this book in their schools.

“We haven’t played anywhere yet that has banned the book,” said Wood, who now lives in Merchantville, New Jersey. “But that might change because we have upcoming stops in North Carolina – Charlotte and Durham – and Tennessee – Nashville and Memphis.”

A story about racism can draw polar reactions from people on the right and on the left.

“With regard to racism, we can only hope this show helps,” said Wood. “The only way I can gauge it is the post-show response of audiences. It’s been very well-received.

“The movie ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ really changed my life. I was nine or 10 when I first saw it. Up until then, I had no idea there was a black/white issue. I had no idea that white people treated black people the way they did.”

There is a direct and personal connection between the 1962 movie and the 2022 National Tour.

“The girl who played ‘Scout’ in the movie – Mary Badham – is playing the old racist woman in our play,” said Wood.

At the age of 10, Badham was chosen for the role of “Scout” for the feature film of “To Kill a Mockingbird” and earned an Oscar nomination for her performance. At that time, she was the youngest person ever nominated for a supporting role. Since then, she has promoted the book and film’s message about social injustice across the United States (including for the National Endowment of the Arts and at two White House appearances).

The play’s stellar cast also features Richard Thomas, who has a large Broadway and film resume and a list of acting awards. He first gained national recognition as John-Boy in the hit TV series “The Waltons.”

Thomas played the Academy of Music in 2007 in the play, “Twelve Angry Men.” For Wood, “To Kill a Mockingbird” will be his Academy of Music debut.

“This is exciting because it’s my first time to play the Academy of Music,” said Wood. “I’ve always wanted to play the Forrest Theater and the Academy of Music.”

Video link for “To Kill a Mockingbird” – https://youtu.be/QzBjwOmnmXQ.

The National Tour of “To Kill a Mockingbird” will visit the Academy of Music from July 11-24. Ticket prices start at $25.

New Hope Club

If you say “New Hope Club” to people in this area, they might likely think you’re referring to a nightclub in New Hope (PA) with a very diverse clientele.

If you say “New Hope Club” to young fans of rock and pop music, they’ll probably think you’re referring to the band New Hope Club, a talented trio from Manchester.

New Hope Club is a British pop trio formed in 2015, consisting of Reece Bibby, Blake Richardson, and George Smith. Their debut EP, Welcome to the Club, was released in May 2017. The band released its eponymous debut album in February 2020, which peaked at number five on the UK Album Charts.

On July 12, New Hope Club will visit Philly for a show at the Foundry at Fillmore Philadelphia (1100 Canal Street, Philadelphia,www.thefillmorephilly.com).

“Me and Blake are from Manchester while George is from the London area,” said Bibby, during a phone interview last week. “But we’re all based in Los Angeles now.

“We work here. It’s a good place to write and record and it’s got a great vibe and great weather. We’ve been coming to L.A. since were 15. It’s been our second home. Being here is a dream place – especially with the beach and the weather.

“We’re in L.A. now – chillin’ before we start the tour this weekend. We’ll be out on tour for one month.”

New Hope Club are kicking off their new era with a multi-track release — “Girl Who Does Both” and “Getting Better” – which was released on June 15. The tracks – written and performed by Bibby, Richardson and Smith – showcase the band’s impressive musical evolution. The songs also mark Richardson’s debut as a producer, developed under the band’s mentorship with multi-platinum, award-winning U.S. producer and songwriter Ross Golan.

“We released our first album at the start of the pandemic,” said Bibby. “We were just about to embark on a world tour promoting the album and then everything shut down.

“The lockdown gave us a hot minute to reflect on what we’d been doing. We could have represented better on the first album.

“We were young and didn’t have the creative freedom we wanted. It’s degrading not to be fully involved in everything. So, we went 100 percent with Hollywood Records.

“We are the only ones to shape our future. Luckily enough, we found the perfect team to work with. We got to work with Ross Golan. He’s a great songwriter and he’s our mentor for this project.”

Having written and performed together since their teens – and all still only 22-years old – New Hope Club is starting a new chapter with greater clarity on their creative purpose. Inspired by great British bands they grew up listening to like The Beatles, The Stone Roses and Oasis; but there are magic touches of classic sounds all over a treasure trove of new music – from sunshine 60s LA pop to reggae rhythms.

The Mancunian trio has gone from playing local pub gigs to growing a devoted global fanbase, selling out headline shows everywhere from Los Angeles to New York, London to Seoul and Tokyo. They have amassed more than two billion global streams and more than 250 million YouTube views. The band’s 2020 self-titled debut album hit Top 5 on the UK charts.

“We just released ‘Getting Better’,” said Bibby. “It’s the new era of New Hope Club.”

The band will continue releasing two-song singles in August, October, December and February — leading into their sophomore album in April 2023.

“The album has been finished for some time,” said Bibby. “We wrote all of it during the lockdown. We worked with Ross over Zoom and then flew to L.A.

“We’ve been sitting on the album for a while but there is no release date yet. So far, we’ve released ‘Getting Better,’ which is the title track, and ‘Girl Who Does Both.’

“We’ll be releasing singles every month or so. We’re fans of older music like the Beatles. We have a lot of retro influences, so we thought we’d go with A side/B side singles.

“On his tour, we’re playing old songs and a lot of new ones. This is a huge album – 15 or 16 tracks – so we have a lot of new songs to pick from.”

Video link for New Hope Club – https://youtu.be/be4RtUQ6ygo.

The show at the Foundry at the Fillmore on July 12 will start at 7:30 p.m.

Tickets are $18.

October Oak Acoustic

October Oak Acoustic, which will be performing on July 13 at Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center (226 North High Street, West Chester,www.uptownwestchester.org), is an acoustic duo featuring Andrew Dickenson on guitar and Joe Sharpe on vocals.

October Oak Acoustic is an acoustic duo with a difference.

Frequently, an “acoustic duo” means a pair of “sensitive singer-songwriters” performing unplugged versions of their heartfelt originals.

“We’re working on an album now,” said Dickenson, during a phone interview last week from his home in Middletown, Delaware.

“We’re trying to do unique covers of songs. There are a lot of songs you wouldn’t expect to hear acoustic – like a Green Day song.”

On the duo’s website, there are links to many of these songs that have been re-interpreted by October Oak Acoustic – The Animal’’ “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” “Rihanna’s Love on the Brain,” Green Day’s “Boulevard of Dreams,” Cage the Elephant’s “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked,” Andrew McMahan’s “Cecilia and the Satellite,” Oasis’ “Wonderwall.”

“One thing we’re proud of is that we have a wide range of music – a lot of versatility,” said Dickenson. “We have about 70 songs that we play right now.

“We like to work out our set list depending on the venue. Some venues prefer older music. Some prefer blues.

“We played the Uptown back in March as October Acoustic Duo. My wife June Suh is a classical opera singer and she performed at a New Year’s Eve gala there in 2020.”

Joe Sharpe, the other half of the duo, is from Fair Hill, Maryland.

“I teach at Cecil College,” said Dickenson. “I teach music, guitar lessons and music history. Joe was one of my students years ago. Joe has been in bands for a long time. He’s done classic rock and blues and was even in a metal band – Giants of Genesis.

“We do a lot of community performances at Cecil College, and Joe stayed involved.

“We played together at a theater production of Shakespeare’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ in Rising Sun, Maryland in July 2021. We had a lot of fun, so we decided to keep doing it. After that, we played our first gig together at Cold Stone Cider in Lewisville.

“We didn’t have a name. We started thinking about October. Cold Stone Cider has a huge maple tree. We thought about maple, but it didn’t sound as good as oak.”

October Oak Acoustic sounds better as a name.

October Oak Acoustic also sounds really good as a musical project putting its own spin on unplugged music.

Video link for October Oak Acoustic — https://youtu.be/sdlRaU4jb5o.

The show at Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center on July 13 will start at 7:30 p.m.

Tickets are $25.

Mr. Sun

On July 13, the Sellersville Theater (24 West Temple Avenue, Sellersville, 215-257-5808, www.st94.com) will present Americana supergroup Mr. Sun.

The band features four of the finest musicians on the American Roots scene — renowned fiddler Darol Anger, Professor Emeritus at Berklee College of Music, who has released dozens of influential solo albums in addition to his work with David Grisman and Mike Marshall, and founded the Turtle Island Quartet, Psychograss, and Republic of Strings; Joe K. Walsh, mandolin virtuoso and vocalist who spent four years with the award-winning bluegrass act the Gibson Brothers before becoming a solo artist, songwriter, and Strings Department Professor at Berklee; all-around guitar genius Grant Gordy, a former member of David Grisman’s band and respected solo artist and educator; and the phenomenal Scots bassist Aidan O’Donnell, who has backed harpist Maeve Gilchrist and countless modern jazz heroes.

“We’re coming up on 10 years as a band – on-and-off,” said Anger, during a recent phone interview from his home in Nashville, Tennessee.

“It’s an intergenerational group. I have 20 years on these guys. We’re connected by all kinds of musical streams. It feels like anew band whenever we play together. There is always so much progress.”

Mr. Sun features three generations of some of the sharpest minds to apply themselves to the American String Band.

Anger has performed and taught all over the world with musicians such as Dr. Billy Taylor, Bela Fleck, Bill Evans, Edgar Meyer, Bill Frisell, David Grisman, Tony Rice, Tim O’Brien, The Anonymous 4, Marin Alsop and the Cabrillo Orchestra, the Detroit Symphony, Mark O’Connor, and Stephane Grappelli.

He is at home in a number of musical genres, some of which he helped to invent, and is a member of the original “nuclear” generation of pickers who extended Bluegrass, Jazz, and Classical music to find their common ground. Mr. Sun is the latest iteration in that legacy.

“When I was 21, I started playing with David Grisman and Tony Rice,” said Anger. “I learned so much. They were people ho really developed their own individual sound. That is definitely true with Mr. Sun too.

“It comes out of people just being themselves. With us, there is a lot of interaction. It’s a talk show and we talk through our instruments.”

Grant Gordy is a standout in the crowded field of Acoustic Guitar Wunderkinds. His work has been widely recognized for its kaleidoscopic excellence and startling emotion, fusing Jazz and Bluegrass concepts to an unprecedented degree.  Assuming the guitarist role in the fabled David Grisman Quintet, a spot previously held by such notables as Tony Rice, Mark O’Connor, Frank Vignola and Mike Marshall, has confirmed Gordy as a pre-eminent young voice on acoustic guitar.

“Grant and I shared some time playing with David Grisman, the father of recombinant bluegrass,” said Anger. “What we play is a continuation of that – bluegrass, blues, pop music, eastern European, classical and Hot Club.”

Joe K. Walsh is one of the foremost contemporary mandolinists, with four award-winning years in the Gibson Brothers, three solo recordings, and a Berklee professorship. He’s toured with countless artists, collaborated with other master musicians, founded progressive string band Joy Kills Sorrow in the early 2000s, and is currently on faculty at the prestigious Berklee College of Music.

“Joe is one of those people who have been in the scene for years,” said Anger. “He’s a great picker who teaches mandolin at Berklee.”

Aidan O’Donnell hails from Glasgow, Scotland. He completed a BA in jazz performance at Birmingham Conservatoire, where he won the prize for Most Promising Performer and was made an Honorary Fellow. He moved to London, where he quickly became one of the most in-demand bassists on the scene.

In 2008, with the aid of a grant from the Scottish Arts Council, he relocated to New York. Since then, he has established himself as a much sought-after bassist, working with such notable musicians as Steve Kuhn, Ben Monder, David Berkman, Darol Anger, Maeve Gilchrist and many more. In addition to this he took his MA in jazz performance at City College, where he studied with John Patitucci.

“Aidan played with just about every jazz group that came through London,” said Anger. “He is an amazing bass player who can play any kind of music.”

Mr. Sun is constantly growing and expanding its horizon.

“We’re working on composing originals,” said Anger. “The band is progressing in a really interesting way. There is a deeper and more emotional level with the music. We’re just having fun and making rhythms. We’re all on the same page.”

Video link for Mr. Sun — https://youtu.be/0y_5vnOyEEw.

The show at the Sellersville Theater on July 13 will start at 8 p.m.

Tickets start at $25.

   Send article as PDF   

Share this post:

Related Posts

Leave a Comment