Broadway in Indianapolis to present ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ 

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The Broadway National Tour of "To Kill a Mockingbird" will be at Clowes Memorial Hall Jan. 23-28. (Photo/Julieta Cervantes)

Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” is coming to Indy.

Adapted for the stage by Aaron Sorkin in 2018, “To Kill a Mockingbird” first debuted on Broadway at the Shubert Theatre in November 2018 and quickly became the highest grossing American play in Broadway history. Now, the Broadway National tour is making a stop in Indianapolis, with eight performances Jan. 23-28 at Clowes Memorial Hall.

“There’s so many fantastic performers in this show who are all bringing their heart and love to this particular piece because it means so much to all of us,” said actor Yaegel Welch, who plays Tom Robinson. “We know what this story means to the fabric of American fiction and American lives, historically and presently.” 

Both Harper Lee’s 1960 novel and the play adaptation center Atticus Finch, a white lawyer, and his daughter, “Scout” Finch, as she is growing up in the fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama. Set in 1934, Welch said the coming-of-age story addresses issues of racism, gender inequities and social injustices as the town is seized by the trial of Tom Robinson, a Black man wrongfully accused of physically and sexually assaulting a white girl.

Yaegel Welch in the role of Tom Robinson in the Broadway National Tour of “To Kill a mockingbird.” (Photo/Julieta Cervantes)

Welch said it is a privilege to take on the role of Tom Robinson as his character’s story is weighed in the truth of both the past and present injustices and, therefore, still needs to be told today.

“So much of the stuff is still happening. We can see it happening with George Floyd, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Eric Gardener, Breonna Taylor, you know, the list can go on and on,” Welch said. “It’s still such an important story, and I connect with it because I may not have lived it directly, but I’ve lived aspects of his experience, and I’ve witnessed aspects of his experience throughout my life.”

Jacqueline Williams, a Chicago-based actor playing the role of Calpurnia, said these injustices and violences against Black and brown people have increased tenfold in the last five years. The story remains relevant, she said, because “we’ve made very little progress,” and there is still “a lot of work to do.”

Unlike the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, the play adaptation is not told in a strictly linear way, Williams said. This version “gets to the meat of things earlier than the book,” scenes from the trial take place sooner in the story, and each of the characters, including Calpurnia, are more fleshed out, she said.

“You get a little more of an idea of who Calpurnia is in the book as opposed to the film,” Williams said. “I wasn’t there with Miss Lee, but, you know, in the ‘60s it definitely would have been more difficult to have some of Calpurnia’s voice during that time.” 

Calpurnia is the Finch family’s housekeeper but also a close friend to Atticus and an almost “surrogate” mother to Scout and Jem after having raised her own son to adulthood. However, she exists in the novel only as Scout perceives her. In the play, Williams said Calpurnia’s character is more: she is wise, truthful and loving, and her close relationship with Atticus and Scout is centralized.

“It’s very heavy, yes, but in this live theater journey there really is a lot of laughter,” Williams said. “There’s joy, there’s pain, but there’s also hope.”

Williams hopes audiences leave the performance and begin to have conversations about what they can do to be better. The only way to make progress is to try, she said, but nothing changes if people do not do anything, Welch added.

“We just hope that everybody really comes out with an open mind,” he said. “They’re gonna get ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ that they know and hopefully some new things too.”

“To Kill a Mockingbird” takes place at Clowes Memorial Hall at Butler University, 4602 Sunset Ave., Jan. 23-28. Tickets are available for purchase at broadwayinindianapolis.com, ticketmaster.com and in-person at the Clowes Hall Box Office. For more information, visit butlerartscenter.org.

Contact staff writer Chloe McGowan at 317-76207848. Follow her on Twitter @chloe_mcgowanxx.