Courtroom Dramas on Broadway: This season…and in the future

The Verdict, a movie starring Paul Newman, written by David Mamet. Would this make a good Broadway play?
The Verdict, a movie starring Paul Newman, written by David Mamet. Would this make a good Broadway play?
Arguendo at the Public Theater, a play based on a Supreme Court case about public nudity
Arguendo at the Public Theater, a play based on a Supreme Court case about public nudity

Stages are turning into courtrooms this season, with A Time To Kill and The Winslow Boy on Broadway, and Arguendo, an actual Supreme Court case about strippers dramatized Off-Broadway.

Many associate courtroom dramas with the screen – one of my favorite is The Verdict, with Paul Newman, which was written by David Mamet – but they have always played well on the stage. Many of the best courtroom movies were also plays: Witness for the Prosecution (first on Broadway in 1954), Inherit The Wind (1955), Twelve Angry Men (a TV drama that became a movie that became a play in 2005 on Broadway.)

Some of those plays are based on real courtroom cases, such as Inherit the Wind.  The musical Parade, by Alfred Uhry and Jason Robert Brown, was about  the Leo Frank case.

The Winslow Boy“What I’ve always enjoyed about courtroom dramas,”  Rupert Holmes, who adapted John Grisham’s novel A Time To Kill, told the Daily News, “is that you’re taking often uncivilized deeds and bringing them into this orderly, ultracivilized setting.”
If there seem to be more now, that’s because “Lawyers have gotten more socially acceptable,” Robert Nederlander Sr. said recently. “We’re now naming theaters after them.”

But there’s plenty of (court)room for even more

ATimeToKillposterIn my ticket giveaway contest for A Time To Kill, I asked:

What courtroom drama would you like to see on a Broadway stage?

Answers ranged from real-life court cases to fanciful novels and movies, and revealed the wealth of inherent drama just waiting for somebody to put on stage. Here are some of the answers.




Mr. and Mrs. Loving. The Loving v. Virginia Supreme Court case overturned all laws banning interracial marriage.
Mr. and Mrs. Loving. The Loving v. Virginia Supreme Court case overturned all laws banning interracial marriage.

Loving v. Virginia, the case that overturned anti-interracial marriage laws. I saw the documentary and thought it was such a powerful story (and that their name was so ironic) and it would be beautiful to see on stage since couples are still discriminated against for loving or marrying someone outside of their race. ~ Ashley Denise Robinson

 Roe v. Wade. Controversial and still relevant as ever. ~ Reynaldo Piniella 

Prop 8 and the DOMA overturn, I would love to see a long run production of Dustin Lance Black’s 8 the Play ~ Michael Farino

As a teacher, I’m very interested in the Brown vs. Board of Ed. case, so I’d like to see it portrayed onstage ~ Claire Butler

Wal-Mart vs. Dukes–recent Supreme Court case against gender discrimination at Wal-Mart. I can imagine Trey Parker and Matt Stone making it quite the spectacle ~ Matt Kennedy

 A little-known, but important case: Cruzan v. Missouri Department of Health. Parents of an accident victim fight through the courts to have the feeding tube removed from their comatose daughter. Potentially downer topic but it’s a great emotional story of parents trying to do what’s right for their child.~ Lane Beauchamp



Lynn Redgrave and John Clark
Lynn Redgrave and John Clark

 The divorce trial between Lynn Redgrave and John Clark. Two very theatrical characters, one absurd (him), one dignified (her), both witty. Lynn thought she had a loving marriage to a loyal spouse, but learned too late about John’s lies, betrayal and narcissism. When she pulled the plug, he contested the divorce, defended himself in court like a total buffoon. He even argued about “custody” of a Hirschfeld drawing of Lynn: he said it was community property, she said it was a gift. Potential for high comedy. Think “Hay Fever” in a courtroom, wit a dark twist… – Meg McSweeney

William Kunstler defending members the American Indian Movement in the 1970s in various cases culminating in the trial for the 1975 slaying of two FBI agents not far from Wounded Knee. I think this would make a great play (and maybe I should write it) that focuses on the struggle of native Americans with the American justice system–as well as the personality of Kunstler. – Lynda Crawford


Inherit The Wind

INHERITTHEWINDBRIANDENNEHYI’d like to see a new generation’s reaction to the storyline behind this. How far have we come and is it far enough? Migdalia Pizarro

The themes are equally relevant now as they were in the ’50′s – Gigi Agius

 Judgment at Nuremberg

would be an outstanding production, in the hands of the right cast. It would be outstanding on stage, gripping the audience with such a sensitive topic for many. Brad Buchholtz 

A Few Good Men

happened on Broadway between 1989 and 1991, and I would really like to see it return with a polished script and a really dynamic cast. ..It puts the Marines’ code of ethics on the line _ Shannon Sigafoos

it’s an interesting story and YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH! – Bridget Rooney


Sidney Lumet’s The Verdict!
Great Dialogue, great character development, simple structure, timely. All lend themselves to a winning possibility for a Stage Adaptation.
A musical adaptation of this was featured at the Williamstown Theatre Festival this summer (2013). It’s a jazz flavored piece, and quite good! – Nick Bailey

Adams Rib

ADAMSRIBclassic Hollywood dramady starring Kathryn Hepburn and Spencer Tracey. Wonderful dialogue, with two great actors you can gin up some fantastic chemistry. Great concept too. Not everything has to be serious and slit-your-wrists heavy. This is supposed to be the ‘entertainment’ industry. – Patrick Steward

I’d like to see the courtroom drama from “Any Day Now” starring Alan Cumming just like in the movie because it’s moving and dramatic & Alan Cumming does a fabulous job.- Monica

Men of Honor – a great story and mainly because Cuba Gooding Jr. Was recently on broadway and likely to return. Maybe Robert DeNIro would be willing to join in as well if it were a limited engagement. – Brian Stoll

I would love to see a broadway adaptation of “Erin Brockovich”. The movie was absolutely brilliant and I think it would be a hit, given it has a good cast – rmb

I’d like to see a musical adaptation of My Cousin Vinny if for no other reason than to have a song called “The Two Yutes”! – Robin Riegelhaupt


John Berendt’s MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL would be an amazing musical. I’m amazed no one has adapted it yet! It has amazing, colorful, larger than life characters, and Lady Chablis would be an incredible role!  J.S. Fauquet @jsfauquet

Arguably Grisham’s greatest novel, The Firm would make an excellent play. It is a drama that spans many different locations, including exotic beached, that also involves some incredibly high stakes. Plus the movie didn’t do it justice, so maybe this medium would work better for it – Aaron Deitsch

 I would like to see a good all-star revival of Agatha Christie’s “Witness for the Prosecution” which not only remains a crackling good mystery, but offers a number of roles into which actors can sink their teeth. It’s also a character study about a defense counsel and his cat and mouse relationship with his very guilty-appearing client. The film starred Charles Laughton, Tyrone Power, Elsa Lanchester and Marlene Dietrich and it would be interesting to see a contemporary director and 21st century actors offer their interpretation of this fascinating work. A good courtroom drama can indeed prove riveting as evidenced by such diverse works as “the Caine Mutiny Court Martial,” “Nuts,” “Twelve Angry Men,” and “The Man in the Glass Booth.” And this season we also get “the Winslow Boy”–so why aren’t there more? ~ Andrew Beck

Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

2 thoughts on “Courtroom Dramas on Broadway: This season…and in the future

Leave a Reply