“To Kill a Mockingbird” / Publicity photo

Richard Thomas Headlines ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ “We’re Here” Returns to HBO

It’s bound to be one of the hottest tickets of the season. The national tour of “To Kill a Mockingbird” comes to the Fox Theatre next week, courtesy of Broadway in Atlanta.

Aaron Sorkin’s adaptation of the beloved Harper Lee novel (and later film) came to Broadway in 2018 and became the highest-grossing American play in history.

Richard Thomas, best known for his Emmy Award-winning role as John-Boy in the TV series, “The Waltons,” stars in the play as Atticus Finch. Finch is a lawyer in Alabama in the ’30s who is defending a Black man who has been falsely accused of rape.

When the actor learned that the producers were going to bring it to New York, he was excited at the prospect of a national tour — and knew he’d the perfect person for it.

“I am a road rat and love touring,” he said.

Thomas believes Atticus Finch is one of those fictional characters who have made a huge impression on people, both on and off the page, in the novel and film and now the play, over the years.

“People sometimes talk about him like he was not a fictional character at all,” Thomas said. “I’ve spoken to lawyers and judges after the show as if he had been some sort of law professor to them. There are other characters like that in literature in and theater who seem to have a life of their own off the page. What Aaron has done is created an Atticus who is I think a lot more approachable to the audience and less idealized, with more of a sense of humor.”

It was important for the actor that the character was written here to sound and feel like just a small-town country lawyer who is in his community, trying to raise his kids largely by himself.

“He is not a heroic figure, just a good decent man,” Thomas said.

Although he feels the message is just as topical today, the play differs from the book and film in several ways.

“Sorkin has really enriched the character of Calpurnia in the play,” Thomas said. “Even though there are only a few scenes, Tom Robinson’s scenes are very rich. Aaron has really forwarded the Black characters and made them richer in a profound way. That is one way this brings it up to 2024. Atticus has a lot to learn from both of these characters.”

The actor playing Tom Robinson is Yaegel T. Welch, who earned a BA in Theatre Arts at Morehouse College. He also starred in “Jitney” at both True Colors and the Alliance Theatre while here and he is excited to be in the national tour of “Mockingbird,” after understudying for the role on Broadway. When he got the part, he realized it was his time.

“I knew I had a lot to bring to it and had trained for something like this my entire life,” Welch said. “I was ready for the role socially and artistically and to be the voice of Tom Robinson. He is the heart of the story.”

According to Welch, Tom is a young father with the education of a six-year-old. His arm is crippled and he cannot move it. One day, a young girl that he routinely helps makes a move on him, and her father comes home and sees them together. Tom ends up in jail and is on trial for his life.

“He is a kind man, a religious man,” Welch said. “At the heart of the case is this regular, hardworking 25-year-old Black kid, just trying to make it, completely innocent who could not have raped anybody. But the system is rigged, and it does not matter that he did not do it.”

The play resonates everywhere, but playing in the South is especially meaningful to the cast and crew.

The new season of “We’re Here” has returned. Not only has it been a commercial success, but the series — produced by Johnnie Ingram and Steve Warren — has been a awards magnet as well, winning Emmy and Peabody awards.

Being on HBO is such a privilege, Ingram told Georgia Voice.

“The ability to tell our stories authentically and be led by queer people has been very important as we write our history in real time,” he said. “We bring four celebrity drag queens to small communities and put on what used to be a once-a-night-only drag show, but this season, based on the shift in the political climate, the anti-drag, anti-trans bills and ordinances and policies that have popped up across the country was really unnerving. A lot of folks [wondered] if we could continue to make this. In order to keep making the show, we had to meet the moment and that was about relooking at not only what it means to be a celebrity drag queen, but the people and the stories on the ground and how this rhetoric affects people across the country. It was challenging, but we evolved and shape-shifted to meet the moment.”

New this season are four drag queens — Sasha Velour, Priyanka, Jaida Essence Hall, and Latrice Royale.

“We had three incredible hosts for the first three seasons, and we were able to tell their personal stories in depth and they were able to connect so beautifully, but we realized we needed to expand the family this season,” Warren said. “We are at a cultural tipping point, a moral and political tipping point. and we need to bring more voices into the mix.”

Instead of rotating cities, the fourth season takes place in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and Bartlesville, Oklahoma.

“To Kill a Mockingbird” runs May 7–12 at the Fox Theatre

“We’re Here” is now airing on HBO and streaming on Max