Top 'Scout': Detroit native wins Tony award for 'Mockingbird' role

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By Kurt Anthony Krug
Legal News

Detroit native Celia Keenan-Bolger called Jean Louise Finch, alias Scout, the narrator of Harper Lee’s seminal novel “To Kill a Mockingbird,” the “greatest literary heroine of all time.”

“That I’m standing here, accepting this award for playing Scout Finch in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ is incredibly moving to me,” Keenan-Bolger said during an emotional acceptance speech.

The actress won the Tony Award for best performance by a featured actress in a play this month Tony Awards for her portrayal of Scout in the Broadway adaptation of “Mockingbird.

The play co-stars Chelsea resident Jeff Daniels (who was also nominated for a Tony for his performance as crusading lawyer Atticus Finch, Scout’s father) and was adapted by Aaron Sorkin, creator of “The West Wing” and creator/author of “A Few Good Men.”

This is Keenan-Bolger’s first Tony.

The actress, who is an alumnus of the Detroit School of Arts and the University of Michigan, was previously nominated for a Tony for her roles in “The Glass Menagerie,” “Peter and the Starcatcher,” and “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.”

In addition to the Tony, she also won the Drama Desk Award and the Outer Critics Circle Award for “Mockingbird,” as well as nominated for the Drama League Award for “Mockingbird.”

“I have loved the theatre since I was 5 years old growing up in Detroit,” Keenan-Bolger said in her speech. “I grew up in a neighborhood where my grandparents had a cross burned on their front lawn because they were being welcoming to black families who were integrating the neighborhood.

“They raised my mother and her siblings alongside those families, and when my mother met my father, instead of moving to the suburbs, they raised me, my brother, and my sister in that same neighborhood.”

Therefore, the themes of “Mockingbird” really hit home for Keenan-Bolger.

Originally published in 1960, “Mockingbird” — which won the Pulitzer Prize and has been required reading in high school English classes across the nation — occurs over three years in 1930s Alabama.

Scout and her older brother Jeremy “Jem” Finch watch their father represent Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a white woman named Mayella Ewell.
Atticus, who embodies many noble qualities and believes all men — including black men — are created equal, knows he’s fighting a losing battle.

Nonetheless, he believes in standing up for what’s right. Even though the evidence is in Robinson’s favor — in fact, the man’s innocent — he is still found guilty due to the townspeople’s racist nature.

Robinson later tries to escape but is shot and killed as Atticus plans to appeal the verdict.

The townspeople ostracize Atticus for defending a black man, calling him derogatory names. Due to this, Scout, Jem, and their friend Dill Harris witness firsthand how racism and ignorance are prevalent in their town.

In the end, to get revenge on Atticus, town drunk Bob Ewell —Mayella’s father and her rapist — attacks Jem and Scout, attempting to murder them with a knife.

In the ensuing fight, Ewell breaks Jem’s arm. However, they’re saved by the reclusive Arthur “Boo” Radley, who kills Ewell.

Boo’s heroic deeds are then covered up by Sheriff Heck Tate. The official report reads Ewell fell on his own knife, killing himself.

“Mockingbird” was adapted into a movie of the same name in 1962, starring Gregory Peck as Atticus, Mary Badham as Scout, and Robert DeNiro as Boo.

Sorkin’s play differs from previous stage adaptations of “Mockingbird.”

One notable change is that the children are played by adults, something Sorkin and the other producers didn’t plan on doing. The adult actors were playing the children at a read-through, which changed their minds. 

“Celia was at the table, (and) with only a couple of hours’ work, was doing a magic trick with the slightest adjustment of her posture, with the slightest adjustment of her voice. She effortlessly went back and forth,” said Sorkin. “She (gave) a really stunning performance in this play.”

In 2018, Lee’s estate filed a lawsuit, stating that Sorkin’s adaptation deviated way too far from the original novel, extrapolating 21st century sensibilities into this period drama at several points.

“When (people) come see the play, I really do hope that they’ll see that it was written and directed and performed by people who have enormous respect for the source material,” said Sorkin. “But we didn’t want to do a museum piece. This isn’t a class field trip. It’s not an exercise in nostalgia or an homage.”

As a result, lawsuits and counter-lawsuits were filed. Eventually, all parties ended up settling out of court.

Despite all that, Sorkin’s adaptation of “Mockingbird” opened at Broadway’s Shubert Theatre last December to nearly universal critical acclaim and has since become the highest-grossing American play in Broadway history, generating more than $40 million in ticket sales.
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The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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