From Page to Stage: John Grisham's A Time To Kill Makes Broadway Debut

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19 Oct 2013

Tonya Pinkins, John Douglas Thompson and Sebastian Arcelus
Tonya Pinkins, John Douglas Thompson and Sebastian Arcelus
Photo by Joan Marcus

"A Time To Kill," the popular John Grisham novel adapted into the 1996 movie, takes life onstage in a new play by Rupert Holmes. Stars John Douglas Thompson and Sebastian Arcelus and producers Eva Price and Daryl Roth talk with about bringing the legal thriller to Broadway. 


"In the whodunit, I did it," John Douglas Thompson cheerfully confessed at the press meet 'n' greet for A Time to Kill recently. "I take justice into my own hands by taking the lives of two white men who have done unspeakable crimes to my daughter."

The novel that started John Grisham's steady procession of bestsellers, opening Oct. 20 at the Golden Theatre, is the first to become a Broadway play. The mystery it harbors is not whodunit; it's will justice be done? Indeed, is there a time to kill?

Like Nick Charles used to do in the old "Thin Man" series, producer Daryl Roth gathered together all the usual suspects in one room — in this case, an impressive and carefully picked cast of 14 — and let the press scrutinize and photograph. The room was one of the larger and least haunted ones in a quasi-theatre on W. 27th St. where Sleep No More fitfully spins, and it was knee-deep in name-brand players: Thompson, Sebastian Arcelus, Ashley Williams, Chike Johnson, Patrick Page, Tonya Pinkins, Tom Skerritt, Fred Dalton Thompson, Jeffrey M. Bender, Dashiell Eaves, J.R. Horne, John Procaccino, Tijuana T. Ricks, Lee Sellars — all present and accounted for.

Eva Price, the show's other lead producer, is pleased the way the actors fit the characters they're playing. "When I sit and look at our production photos and I look at every actor who plays every role," she said contentedly, "I go down the line and I think, 'I can't picture anyone else for that.' It is a casting-perfection combination."

This production came into being in a very circuitous way — through a documentary Roth produced a few years ago on shelter animals called "My Dog: An Unconditional Love Song." She was approached by a gentleman who wanted to do a companion book on dogs for the film, so they took a meeting. "He walked into my office not knowing I was a theatre producer, thinking I was just some crazy dog lady, and we had our talk. At the end of it, he identified himself as a literary manager and said he represented John Grisham. He said, 'A Time to Kill was John's first book, and it's the one book he always felt could be adapted for the stage. Would you be interested?' I said, 'Sign me right up. I'm your gal.' That accidental encounter led to all of this."

She went to the go-to guy for this sort thing, writer Rupert Holmes (The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Accomplice, Solitary Confinement, Curtains), and he saw a way in.


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