'That community defined me': Tony-winning producer reflects on teenage years in Deerfield

  • "Six," the story of Henry VIII's six wives, produced by Deerfield High School graduate Kevin McCollum, received eight Tony Award nominations Monday. The Broadway production stars, from left, Evanston native Abby Mueller, Samantha Pauly, Adrianna Hicks, Andrea Macasaet, Brittney Mack and Anna Uzele.

    "Six," the story of Henry VIII's six wives, produced by Deerfield High School graduate Kevin McCollum, received eight Tony Award nominations Monday. The Broadway production stars, from left, Evanston native Abby Mueller, Samantha Pauly, Adrianna Hicks, Andrea Macasaet, Brittney Mack and Anna Uzele. Courtesy of Joan Marcus

  • Kevin McCollum

    Kevin McCollum

  • Rob McClure plays Euphegenia Doubtfire in the Broadway musical "Mrs. Doubtfire," whose producers include Deerfield High School graduate Kevin McCollum.

    Rob McClure plays Euphegenia Doubtfire in the Broadway musical "Mrs. Doubtfire," whose producers include Deerfield High School graduate Kevin McCollum. Courtesy of Joan Marcus

 
 
Updated 5/12/2022 2:46 AM

Actor/musician turned Broadway producer Kevin McCollum called the Chicago suburbs home only briefly.

If you count his four years at Deerfield High School, a post-college stint performing at Marriott and Drury Lane theaters, and taking classes at Victory Gardens Theater, it doesn't add up to a large chunk of time.

 

But for the former Deerfield resident, who came to live with his aunt and uncle at 14 after his mother died of breast cancer, the time spent here had an enormous impact.

"That community defined me," said the four-time Tony Award-winner, whose production of "Six" received eight 2022 Tony nominations Monday. "Chicago and the North Shore defined me at one of the hardest times of my life and said, 'You matter.'"

Moving to Deerfield and not knowing anyone, McCollum said he "found the theater was the great place for me to find instant, new friends."

The Hawaii native always had a knack for gathering people together, a talent that comes in handy in his line of work.

"The theater is the true interactive art form," he said. "Everybody has to show up."

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A combination of artistic sensitivity, a good head for business and a commitment to providing opportunities for fellow theater artists has served him well. He produced the hit musicals "Rent," "Avenue Q," "In the Heights" and a revival of "Private Lives," winning Tonys for all of them.

He also produced Rajiv Joseph's "Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo," "Hand to God" (Paramount Theatre's revival opens next month), "Something Rotten" and "The Play That Goes Wrong," which concludes its hit Chicago run in a few weeks.

Chicago's sit-down production of "Six" runs through July 3 at the CIBC Theatre.

Considering a musical can cost upward of $10 million to produce, raising money is part of his job. But it's not the only part, or even the most important part.

"As a producer, I fall in love with the story, and then I go out and find other people who agree with me," he said. "That's how shows are put together."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

It involves listening -- lots of listening -- and meeting people eager to tell the story you want to tell, and learning from them, he said. He named his production company Alchemation for a reason. The made-up word refers to the process of getting creatives together and stirring their ideas.

When people ask how to become a producer, McCollum advises taking a writer to lunch.

"Talk to them about what excites them. Become a fan," he said. "And then ask them for the option to build off that idea."

As a producer, McCollum serves as the artistic driver until he finds a director, "then it becomes the director's job to keep driving while I put all the other elements together," he said.

He recalls talking with former Steppenwolf Theatre artistic director and Tony Award winner Anna D. Shapiro about a project, then shifting gears to ask if she ever considered directing a musical. She said she loved musicals, said McCollum, who mentioned he was producing "The Devil Wears Prada" and left it at that.

Later, with a few more elements in place, he approached Shapiro to helm the Broadway-bound tuner, which begins previews in July at Chicago's James M. Nederlander Theatre.

That's ahead of Chicago Shakespeare Theater's September premiere of "The Notebook," another musical he's producing.

For the Deerfield High grad, producing isn't just his job, it's his passion, creating the best environment in which artists can do their best work, "where our collective art form has the best opportunity to be seen."

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