Theater said it was concerned about threats of legal action against its stage version of Harper Lee’s novel

Because of concerns about the potential for a legal challenge to its planned production of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Venice Theatre announced Monday that it will instead close next season with the long-running musical hit “Chicago.”

The theater’s new season announcement in January included Christopher Sergel’s traditional stage version of Harper Lee’s classic novel, which the theater last produced in 2005. The announcement came just two months after a new adaptation by Aaron Sorkin opened on Broadway. It stars Jeff Daniels as beloved attorney Atticus Finch, who teaches his daughter and residents of their small Alabama community lessons about racism as he defends a black man accused of raping a white woman.

The New York Times reported in February that lawyers for Scott Rudin, the producer of the new Sorkin version, backed by Lee’s estate, told several theaters that their plans to produce Sergel’s play were no longer permissible. He first asserted his stage rights to the story in stopping a planned British touring production of Sergel’s version. Then several theaters in the United States were notified that they could no longer produce the play. One theater in Buffalo was two weeks away from opening its production when it received a cease and desist notice.

Despite news of the legal actions, Producing Executive Director Murray Chase initially said he didn’t think Venice Theatre would face a challenge for its production.

In fact, the theater has not received any legal notification against the validity of its contract to produce the Sergel script.

“The theater has not been challenged,” said Laurie Colton, director of marketing and public relations. “But a lot of theaters have been, even when they were told they wouldn’t be. Rather than have something happen to us later on, we would rather plan ahead and do ‘Chicago,' since we always wanted to do the show.”

It will be Venice Theatre’s first production of the musical, which features a score by John Kander and Fred Ebb and a book by Ebb and Bob Fosse, who directed and choreographed the original version. “Chicago” is about two women charged with murder who use media attention from their crimes to build careers in show business.

The original production of “Chicago” opened in 1975 and ran about two years for 936 performances. The current Broadway revival originated as an elaborate concert staging at New York’s City Center and transferred to Broadway in 1996. It has become the second longest-running show in Broadway history (and the longest-running American musical on Broadway) with more than 9,300 performances, behind only “The Phantom of the Opera.”

The Venice Theatre production will run April 17 to May 3, 2020.

For more information: 941-488-1115; venicestage.com