Angela Grovey and Scott Cote in a scene from The Play That Goes Wrong

The Play That Goes Wrong will land at The Fisher Theatre this February.

By Suzanne Chessler, Contributing Writer

Photography by Jeremy Daniel

Kevin McCollum

Broadway producer Kevin McCollum believes everyone needs to indulge in captivating laughter as a distraction from stress, and he is confident about currently offering that opportunity to audiences around the country.

The source of the diversion is the touring production of The Play That Goes Wrong, which has cheered New York playgoers for nearly two years.

McCollum, whose late mother (nee Susan Goldberg) attended the University of Michigan, recalls the Ann Arbor area and celebrates his mother’s ethnic identity as he brings the comedy to Detroit and showcases humor styles long communicated through Jewish stagecraft traditions.

“I love the belly laughs that I hear from audiences,” says McCollum, who travels to watch the production in different cities and may be among the Fisher Theatre crowds sometime between Feb. 12 and 24.

“It’s not intellectual, cynical humor. The secret ingredient is Yiddish theater [origins], where it’s man against his environment and the issues that have people struggling to get through each day. When they do get through, it’s even more delicious.”

In The Play That Goes Wrong, an amateur stage group tries very hard and very heartily to put on a successful play — a play within a play — and encounters all kinds of bumbling with props falling apart, lines forgotten and movement slip-ups. The play within, The Murder at Haversham Manor, gives an offbeat take on 1920s mysteries.

“It’s all just stagecraft delight,” says McCollum, who has brought Motown the Musical and Rent to the city. “The guys who wrote this — Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields of the Mischief Theatre — just turned 30 and they’ve written five different plays. I want to support them because I love bringing new voices to Broadway.”

Humor reminiscent of Yiddish theater is part of the humor that sparks belly laughs from audiences. Jeremy Daniel

The Business Side
Part of bringing new voices to the stage has been important to a business partnership and longtime friendship with Jeffrey Seller, a producer who grew up in the Michigan Jewish community and maintains a loyalty to the area. Seller recently donated $1 million to support the Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit, which gives young people performing arts experiences and has trained a number of participants able to achieve theatrical stardom.

“Jeffrey and I were business partners for 20 years,” McCollum says. “We have had companies together but have worked on shows independently.”

McCollum, currently immersed in various projects through his own company Alchemation, is giving considerable time to the development of a musical stage version of the film Mrs. Doubtfire.

“In my ethic of being Jewish, I want to contribute,” says McCollum, who started as a musical theater actor with training at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music and earned a master’s degree in film producing from the Peter Stark Program at the University of Southern California.

“When I was 26 and still playing 17-year-olds in musicals, I was getting a little bored. I started investing in my friends and still have a part of the company called The Booking Office. Through booking, Jeffrey and I got started producing.”

Because of his performance history, McCollum believes he holds a special connection with performers while assuming a different perspective.

“I have an artist’s heart even though I spend a lot of my time doing the business of theater,” he says. “I’m not trying to be in charge. I’m someone trying to collaborate.”

Successful collaboration has brought four Tony Awards, one for set design displayed in The Play That Goes Wrong. The very design that stirred Broadway acclaim will be in Detroit.

“When I look at the Tony Awards from plays I’ve produced, I think of all the people I met and the relationships I’ve had doing the shows,” he explains. “The show is the thing, but the people are everything.”

Love of Theater
As McCollum heads home after working hours, he does not leave show business behind. His wife is musical theater actress Lynnette Perry. His daughter is studying theater, and his son is preparing for film school.

The producer gives the same advice to his children that he gives to aspiring actors.

“I advise young actors to be in this business for passion,” says McCollum, 56. “People make a lot of money in this business, but they do it by falling in love with the business first. They shouldn’t do it because they’re trying to get the approval from anyone other than themselves. They have to love doing it because they need that love to sustain them in a very difficult [occupation].”

As McCollum seeks production projects, he usually looks for big-idea musicals that celebrate finding family against all odds.

The Play That Goes Wrong takes a bit of a detour from his musical route, partly because it originated in England. Among a group of producers, he heard about the show, saw it and wanted to bring it to America.

“Plays like this have been out of fashion, and I’m a contrarian,” says McCollum, who grew up in Hawaii and Illinois. “When people see this play well executed with comic timing and all the physical comedy, they realize how wonderful it is. I promise audiences will be surprised and delighted.

“Our physiology changes when we laugh. The dopamine and serotonin in everybody’s brain give a sense of well-being. Gathering in a darkened room with strangers and sharing laughter have people leaving as a family and a community, and that’s powerful.”

The Play That Goes Wrong runs Feb. 12-24 at the Fisher Theatre in Detroit. Tickets start at $44. (313) 872-1000, ext. 0.