'Mockingbird,' once a Broadway smash, to pause production amid omicron

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'Mockingbird,' once a Broadway smash, to pause production amid omicron
Jeff Daniels, left, and Celia Keenan-Bolger in “To Kill a Mockingbird” at the Shubert Theater in New York, Dec. 6, 2018. Sara Krulwich/The New York Times.

NEW YORK, NY.- The producers of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” a hit play that had been packing in audiences before the pandemic, announced Wednesday that they would shut the show down until June, lay off the cast and crew, downsize the production and then reopen in a smaller theater.

At the same time, “Girl From the North Country,” a heart-tugging musical that uses the songs of Bob Dylan to consider the Depression-era plight of a group of down-on-their-luck Midwesterners in the town where Dylan was born, said it will end its Broadway run on Jan. 23, and would try to reopen in another theater this spring.

They became the seventh and eighth Broadway shows to announce temporary or permanent closing dates since early December, when the omicron variant sent coronavirus cases soaring in New York. Their plans for short-term layoffs follow an example set by the musical “Mrs. Doubtfire,” which recently said it would close for nine weeks.

The “Mockingbird” move is dramatic, especially for a show that had been playing to capacity crowds before the pandemic. The show had been contemplating for some time whether a move to a smaller theater could make it more sustainable for a long-term run, and the decision to do so now allows it to avoid a period when attendance on Broadway is soft, and expected to remain so, because of the omicron surge.

“Mockingbird” plans to end its current run on Sunday and then resume performances in the theater where “Girl” has been playing on June 1. “Mockingbird,” one of the rare nonmusical productions to contemplate a long run on Broadway, has been running since late 2018 at the Shubert Theater, which has 1,435 seats. It now plans to relocate to the Belasco Theater, where “Girl” has been playing, and which has about 1,000 seats.

The producers hope that the move to a smaller theater will allow “Mockingbird” to sustain a long-term run.

“Mockingbird,” of course, is adapted from the novel by Harper Lee, which is one of the most popular in American history — just last month, New York Times readers chose it as the best book of the last 125 years. The play, with a script by Aaron Sorkin, had been selling strongly and is set to expand; a North American tour and a London production are both scheduled to begin in March.

“Mockingbird,” which has long since recouped its $7.5 million capitalization costs, originally had Scott Rudin as its lead producer, but he stepped back from active producing after accusations of bullying, and the production is now overseen on a day-to-day basis by Orin Wolf, as executive producer, with Barry Diller as the new lead producer.

The show originally starred Jeff Daniels as Atticus Finch; he returned to lead the cast when the Broadway shutdown ended, and the character is now played by Greg Kinnear, who is expected to return when the show does.

“Girl From the North Country” has had a tough run on Broadway: it opened on March 5, 2020, just a week before the coronavirus pandemic forced all theaters to close. And then it was deemed ineligible to compete for that season’s Tony Awards, because too few voters had managed to see it before the industry shut down (it is eligible to compete this season).

The musical, with a book by Irish playwright Conor McPherson, resumed performances Oct. 13, 2021, but, with its dark tone and small scale, never really found its footing, despite strong prepandemic reviews in outlets including The New York Times, in which critic Ben Brantley called the show “profoundly beautiful.”

The musical, which McPherson also directed, had begun its life with a 2017 run at the Old Vic in London, and then had an off-Broadway run in 2018 at the Public Theater before transferring to Broadway. The lead producers are Tristan Baker and Charlie Parsons, who run a London-based production company called Runaway Entertainment. The show was capitalized for up to $9 million, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission; that money has not been recouped.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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