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The Music Man

Producer Kevin McCollum brings soul to Motown The Musical.

Deerfield’s own Kevin McCollum debuts Motown the Musical in Chicago.

Kevin McCollum’s mother tragically succumbed to her battle with cancer when he was only 14 years old. Soon, the teenager was moving from his home in Hawaii to Deerfield to live with his aunt and uncle, Lois and Jerry Heisler who, along with Apple Tree Theatre’s Eileen Boevers, had just opened the now-defunct Children’s Theater of Deerfield. There, McCollum turned tragedy into triumph, learning the tricks of the trade that would develop into a lustrous career producing Tony Award-winning hits such as In the Heights, Avenue Q and Rent. This April, McCollum returns to his childhood home, as his newest project, Motown the Musical, heads to Broadway in Chicago.

How did your early theater experiences impact your career?
As soon as I moved [to Deerfield], I was in a play the next week. The Children’s Theater helped me through a difficult time, and I also learned how much I enjoyed performing. I’m really lucky because I found my passion early in life.

When did you decide to move away from performing onstage and into the role of producer?
I was about 25, and I decided to go for my master’s degree in film production at the University of Southern California. I worked for Disney for a few years, but really missed the theater, so I moved to New York and started my company, The Booking Office, which today exists as The Booking Group. Being a producer uses all my skill sets—I’m the coach and the cheerleader and the CFO. It’s always different, and I get to work with a lot of interesting people.

One of those people is Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown, who you collaborated with on this musical. What was it like working with him?
He was very involved and actually wrote three original songs for the production, on top of the classics. Berry has great memories about how scenes unfolded, like how he would have reacted to a certain situation or what Diana [Ross] might have said in a particular moment. During the process, he gave me a lot of leeway, so it was really a great melding of both our instincts to bring the show to the stage.

Why is this show, in particular, important to you?
Motown is timeless. It wasn’t just a body of work; it truly transformed our country and defined the Civil Rights Movement. This music got under our skin so the color of our skin no longer mattered. It made America more American, and without it, I don’t think Barack [Obama] would be president.

Having worked on Broadway both in New York and Chicago, what are your thoughts on the theater scene here?
It’s very robust and accessible. Theatergoers in Chicago are smart and diverse and open to new ideas, which makes it a great place for shows to tour. I think Chicago is going through a renaissance right now with a vibrant arts scene. But, most importantly, I think the city is focused on making sure young people are exposed to the arts, which I know from experience is paramount.