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  • Writer's pictureJohn Gonzalez

'To Kill a Mockingbird' still relevant today, actor says

BY JOHN D. GONZALEZ

@MichiganGonzo

Photo: Courtesy of Julieta Cervantes


EAST LANSING, MI - There’s a harsh reality to the current Broadway tour of Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird.”


What was reality back in the 1930s still lingers today, said actor Christopher Ellis, who stars as prosecutor Horace Gilmer in the national Broadway tour.


“This show is relevant. Even though it was 1934, it’s still relevant today, and some of the injustices,” said Ellis in a recent phone interview with “Behind the Mitten.”


The reimagined drama by the acclaimed playwright/screenwriter/film director Aaron Sorkin addresses that head on, he added. His version looks at the play in a new way.


“Like Aaron said…from an African American perspective, this is old news. This is still happening, maybe in different forms, but that type of thing is still happening.”


The classic 1960 novel, which later became a film starring Gregory Peck, is about a young girl named Scout Finch and her brother Jem. Set in Alabama, their father, Atticus Finch, defends a Black man named Tom Robinson who is accused of a crime he didn't commit. Scout, Jem, and their friend Dill, are curious about the trial and learn important lessons about racism, injustice and empathy.


Sorkin's stage adaptation maintains the core themes and messages of Harper Lee's original work, according to critics, but introduces some changes in narrative perspective, character development, and storytelling style to make it a distinctive and thought-provoking theatrical experience.


In the end, it’s a story about standing up for what's right and understanding the importance of seeing the world from other people's perspectives.


Michigan audiences will get a chance to see the tour three times.

This is the national tour’s third leg of dates after successful runs that started back in April of 2022. Ellis was on that first tour, which starred Emmy Award-winning actor Richard Thomas as Atticus Finch. He remains a fixture and has been a key factor to its staying power.


One reviewer said: “Richard Thomas as Atticus Finch is at the height of his career.”


Ellis speaks highly of the actor we all remember as John-Boy Walton of the long-running TV series “The Waltons.” He said: “What you see is what you get.”


“He is a great leader. He’s fun to work with. He’s fun to play with. I have nothing but praise for this man,” Ellis said. “I’m a fan.”


Plus, the actor has a sincere way of “immediately embracing everybody.”


“He’s inspiring us to tell this story all across the nation, and he’s still having a blast with it. Every night he’s on stage you can tell.”


Originally from Idaho, Ellis attended Wayne State University’s Hillberry Program in Detroit for three years, “which was a good training ground because it was a rotating rep, so you would go to classes in the morning and rehearsals in the afternoon.”


After graduating with an MFA in 2012, he did Utah Shakespeare Theatre and also moved to Chicago where his wife teaches high school drama. They have two teenage children. He also does a lot of Dick Wolf TV shows “where I play a cop a lot on ‘Chicago Fire PD.’”


Overall, Ellis said he hopes those who have not seen “To Kill a Mockingbird” will feel compelled to come out. Past audiences have loved it, he said.

“It’s well worth it. I know I’m in the show, but I cannot recommend it enough. People need to see this show…


“It's taking this story to new audiences that might not see this perspective,” Ellis said. “This is not something that has gone away. This is not something (where you say) ‘oh, that was way back then; it’s different now.’


“These audiences, who might not go to Broadway, get to experience this, and I think this story is very relevant. Every day. Still is.”


IF YOU GO

Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird”

A new play by Aaron Sorkin


When: Oct. 3 -8, 2023

Where: Wharton Center in East Lansing

Tickets: $45; Student/Youth $29

More info: whartoncenter.com or 517-432-2000

Performance Times:

Tuesday: 8PM

Wednesday -Thursday: 7:30PM

Friday: 8PM

Saturday: 2PM & 8PM

Sunday: 1PM & 6:30PM

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