Yesterday, The Hollywood Reporter’s David Rooney disclosed that John Grisham’s legal thriller A Time to Kill is being adapted for the stage by Tony Award winning-musician and writer Rupert Holmes and director Ethan McSweeny. It is scheduled for an October 20 opening at New York’s John Golden Theater.
A courtroom drama set in a small town in Mississippi, A Time to Kill centers on the trial of a black father who murders two white racists who raped and killed his daughter.
A Time to Kill is the first of Grisham’s books to be adapted for stage, and it couldn't be in better hands. Holmes, whom you may know as the singer of the late seventies hit song “Escape (The Pina Colada Song),” received a Tony Award for his play Drood, based on Charles Dickens’ unfinished novel The Mystery of Edwin Drood.
Director McSweeny is already well-known on Broadway, having helmed plays based on works by literary giants like Gore Vidal. A veteran of over sixty productions in some of the country’s most celebrated theaters, McSweeny brings a stellar reputation with him to A Time to Kill.
To say that A Time to Kill had inauspicious beginnings would be an understatement: The book that would eventually make Grisham a household name had difficulty finding a home in the publishing industry. Almost thirty publishers passed on the book before it was picked up for publication by a small press in New York. Even then, the initial print run was limited to only a few thousand copies, and some Mississippi residents still recall the author’s early years hand-selling copies of the novel.
Attention turned to A Time to Kill after the release of Grisham’s wildly successful second novel, The Firm, and in due course a new edition of the book was printed by Random House’s Doubleday imprint. At last, the book had found its audience, and a movie soon followed.
A Time to Kill boasted an all-star cast including Matthew McConaughey, Samuel L. Jackson, Sandra Bullock, Kevin Spacey and many others. Moviegoers packed theaters, netting studio Warner Bros. almost $13 million in profit. Not bad for a book that came close to never being published at all.
In a matter of months the Broadway adaptation of A Time to Kill will have a chance to make its case with theatergoers. Will Grisham’s dark horse of a novel find success once again? I wouldn't bet against it.