Richard Thomas of ‘Waltons’ Fame Looking Forward To ‘Mockingbird” Performance, 1st Visit To Chattanooga

  • Wednesday, June 5, 2024
  • John Shearer
Richard Thomas
Richard Thomas

Veteran actor Richard Thomas admitted over the phone Wednesday that he has never been to Chattanooga for any reason in his nearly 73 years.

However, that will soon change, as he will be here to play the lead role of noted lawyer Atticus Finch in the national touring production of “To Kill a Mockingbird” Friday through Sunday at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Auditorium. As a result, he is looking forward to his first visit.

“Most of the time I’m going to be in the theater because we’ve got four shows on the weekend and one Friday night, but I’ll certainly be able to pick up the vibe and enjoy that,” he said.

Although he has never been here, countless Chattanoogans, on the other hand, have enjoyed visiting his various TV, film and stage sets in which he has appeared over the years, mostly via the wonders of technology. And none has likely been bigger – at least for Baby Boomers and those a little older – than his fictitious rural Virginia home that was the setting for the popular CBS TV series, “The Waltons,” beginning in the 1970s.

He said he still gets asked every day about the show and his role playing aspiring teenage writer John-Boy Walton, and he understands why the storyline of a family harmoniously struggling to make ends meet during the Depression resonated with so many people.

“When the show came out, there was really no show like it,” he said, adding that the surviving members of the show still stay in touch with each other. “It was very different from what the usual programming was in those days. It was kind of a special new thing for people as well as a beautiful story about an American family and just family in general. It was popular all over the world because family is something that persists across all borders.”

The book and play and movie, “To Kill a Mockingbird” – which also takes place during the Depression -- holds an even higher place in American fine arts history. Because of that, he is hoping people will enjoy seeing this show that has similar themes of decency and character and respect.

“It’s probably the most important American play in a long time, the most successful play in Broadway history, and it’s been the most successful play in touring history,” Mr. Thomas said. “It’s something not to miss. It’s an adaptation of one of maybe the most beloved books by an American.

“Many people have fond memories of the movie. It’s a story Americans have seen, and they like the story, and they ought to come see our version of it. It’s a story no one should miss.”

He added that the theme of civil rights in this play focusing on a white lawyer who represents a black man wrongly accused of raping a white woman in segregated Alabama also is still important today.

“It’s our story,” he said. “It’s a story of who we think we are and who we aspire to be, and when we fall short of that, what do we do about that? It is unfortunately perennially relevant and in many ways it’s as relevant today as when it was written (in 1960). It is also a wonderful story of childhood and of a childhood summer, and many people can relate to that.”

And just as people seem to never tire of this story, he said he has not become bored playing the role of Atticus Finch with the touring production since it opened in the spring of 2022.

“It’s a wonderful part, very satisfying and very challenging,” he said. “Even though I’ve been playing it for over two years now, I never get tired of it.”

Mr. Thomas, who was born and raised in New York City, said his career has covered 65 years, and among his favorite other acting roles have included being in “Ozark,” “The Americans,” and “Billions” on TV as well as performing in Shakespeare plays.

He added that the theater is his first love, and he is looking forward to being in a new production of “Our Town” beginning this fall.

But until then, he looks forward to continuing to play Atticus Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and he encourages Chattanooga area residents to come see this play that has been adapted by writer Aaron Sorkin and that lasts three hours with an intermission.

“It’s a wonderful cast,” he said. “It will make you laugh and make you cry. You’ll have a wonderful time. It’s very entertaining, very thought provoking. It’s a real feast.”

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“To Kill a Mockingbird” will be playing at Memorial Auditorium Friday, June 7, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, June 8, at 2 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, June 9, at 1 and 6:30 p.m. For ticket information, go to tivolichattanooga.com.

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Jcshearer2@comcast.net

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