'Mockingbird' At Broward Center Speaks Volumes

Show's Co-Star Says Aaron Sorkin's Adaptation Relevant Today

Richard Thomas as Atticus Finch and Yaegel T. Welch as Tom Robinson in Aaron Sorkin's


Richard Thomas as Atticus Finch and Yaegel T. Welch as Tom Robinson in Aaron Sorkin's "To Kill a Mockingbird." (Photo by Julieta Cervantes)

Michelle F. Solomon, Editor 

In January of 2022, a Seattle-area school board voted to remove "To Kill a Mockingbird" from its student reading lists. The concern was over racism in the classic novel by Harper Lee, first published in 1960.

And the same story played out at the Burbank Unified School District where teachers are no longer able to use the book as part of their curriculum. But a committee in Evans, Georgia, decided to take no action against a parent's appeal to ban the book, and kept it on their library shelves and in its curriculum list.

Melanie Moore (


Melanie Moore ("Scout Finch") and Richard Thomas ("Atticus Finch") in "To Kill a Mockingbird" opening at the Broward Center on Saturday, March 28. (Photo by Julieta Cervantes)

Florida ranks among the top 5 states for most books banned, according to PEN America, a non-profit that works to “protect free expression in the United States and worldwide” and maintains a database of banned books from school districts across the U.S.

A Facebook post caused a stir in August, which claimed that Florida banned the novel, "To Kill a Mockingbird," from its schools. A fact-check found that it wasn't true.

While Florida school districts have taken several books out of the curriculum list, “To Kill A Mockingbird” is not listed among them, according to PEN America.

Through the book-banning controversy, a Broadway revival of "Mockingbird" has racked up attendance records and now it's coming to South Florida.

Aaron Sorkin's adaptation of Lee's book will be at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts starting Tuesday, March 28 through Sunday, April 9. Sorkin became a household name as the creator of the hit television show "The West Wing."

On Nov. 1, 2018, the play opened on Broadway and played to sold-out houses at the Shubert Theatre until the pandemic shut it down in March of 2020, then came back in October of 2021 and played until January of 2022. Three years ago, 18,000 students saw "To Kill a Mockingbird" at Madison Square Garden in New York.

Yagel T. Welch, who was in the Broadway production, is now touring the show as Tom Robinson, an African American man accused of rape in 1930s Alabama. Richard Thomas, who for years was a TV staple as John Boy Walton on "The Waltons" portrays the lawyer, Atticus Finch, who defends Robinson, and, takes on the town's racism at the same time.

"I think that from my perspective, reading 'To Kill a Mockingbird presents a . . . truth that was happening in one time and it is the truth. I see it as presented as a way for us to learn a lesson from. It doesn't glorify the characters as people in time like a statue of Robert E. Lee might," says Welch.

Yaegel T. Welch as Tom Robinson in the national touring production of


Yaegel T. Welch as Tom Robinson in the national touring production of "To Kill a Mockingbird." (Photo by Julieta Cervantes)

Sorkin keeps the story in the 1930s but makes the choice that Atticus Finch should be the primary protagonist. Sorkin has been quoted as saying that in the book and the movie version (starring Gregory Peck), Atticus isn't the protagonist because his character never undergoes a change and doesn't have a flaw, something true protagonists do by the end of a play. Also, Sorkin has said in many interviews that he wanted to make the play "much less of a white savior story."

"Aaron took a slice of life out of the book that related to what was happening today. In the book, the character and the story of Tom Robinson is about two chapters," says Welch. "Our whole play centers around that — the trial. What Aaron did was modernize it, and make it relevant to what we're experiencing today. You still have the message of what the book was originally intending to do, but you also have current issues that audiences can think, 'Oh, wow, this relates to our life in the present world today. I think that was a genius move by (Sorkin)."

Welch believes that the play resonates differently with audiences today. "We're all feeling inundated with so many different examples of injustice happening at the hands of the law to disenfranchised communities. Back when the book was written, there might have been things that people heard about or witnessed but there may have been others that hadn't witnessed it, where racism and discrimination of that kind was something that was talked about. Now I think audiences relate in an impactful and empathetic manner. We've seen George Floyd, we've seen Tyre Nichols, we've seen Travyon Martin. We know it's real."

Travis Johns (Boo Radley), Melanie Moore (Scout Finch), Steven Lee Johnson (Dill Harris) and Justin Mark (Jem Finch) in Aaron Sorkin's adaptation of Harper Lee's


Travis Johns (Boo Radley), Melanie Moore (Scout Finch), Steven Lee Johnson (Dill Harris) and Justin Mark (Jem Finch) in Aaron Sorkin's adaptation of Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird." (Photo by Julieta Cervantes)

Welch says playing opposite Thomas has been a wonderful, energizing experience. "His leadership style sets the tone for how we interact as a company. He brings a great deal of humility and a warm energy to the room. We all treat each other with fairness and kindness no matter if you are working backstage or are on stage. His portrayal of Atticus comes from the heart."

Overall, Welch, says that the note the play ends on is what audiences will take with them when they leave the theater. "In my opinion, it's about empathy. How can we empathize with one another? It's when 'trying to do the right thing is the right thing.' That's the message," he says.

"To Kill a Mockingbird runs from Tuesday, March 28 to Sunday, April 9 at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale. Information and tickets at starting at $36.75 are available at and, by phone at (954) 468-0222.

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