US film and theatre producer Scott Rudin is to take Harper Lee's novel To Kill a Mockingbird to Broadway, in a new adaptation by screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, after a change of heart by the author, who was previously reluctant to allow such a production.
Rudin acquired rights to stage the play on Broadway and in regular professional theatres, as well as the first-class production rights in London and national and global touring rights. Rudin is said to have begun seeking rights for the novel two years ago, and to have completed the deal after "months of negotiations".
Agent Andrew Nurnberg told the New York Times that Lee had long been reluctant to sell professional stage rights despite numerous entreaties. "While Nelle had always had misgivings about anyone who might want to bring To Kill a Mockingbird to Broadway - and there have been many approaches over the years - she finally decided that Scott would be the right person to embrace this," he said.
The playwright Christopher Sergel's very faithful adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird has been staged multiple times in schools and regional theatres in the US, as well as in London in 2013. It is also staged every year by volunteers in Lee's home town, Monroeville, Alabama. Dramatic Publishing, the Illinois-based company that licenses Sergel's adaptation, continues to hold non-professional theatrical rights.
Sorkin, with whom Rudin collaborated on films including "The Social Network" and "Steve Jobs", is likely to "take more liberties" with the book than Sergel, according to the New York Times.
Sorkin told the newspaper: "To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the most revered pieces of 20th century American literature. It lives a little bit differently in everybody's imagination in the way a great novel ought to, and then along I come. I'm not the equal of Harper Lee. No one is."
Rudin said the portrayal of Atticus in the stage play would reflect the heroic characterisation of the original figure in To Kill a Mockingbird rather than the less attractive figure featured in Go Set a Watchman, the second Harper Lee novel, published last year. "The Atticus we do is going to be the Atticus in To Kill a Mockingbird. He's one of the greatest characters ever created in American literature," he commented.
He also said: "You can't just wrap the original in bubblewrap and move it as gently as you can to the stage. It's blasphemous to say it, but at some point, I have to take over."