Broadway producer Kevin McCollum's company is named Alchemation. Don't bother looking it up. He coined the word. And it speaks volumes about how he thinks.
Alchemation is a mashup of "alchemy" and "creation." While it won't earn any points in Scrabble, the word is unique and fresh — just like his approach to producing.
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"Make something new and define territory that's never been," he said recently in his Manhattan office. "I fall in love with shows because I've never see that before. I fall in love with new vocabularies."
McCollum's passion for fresh voices and new works has paid off this season with two very different shows that have earned 15 Tony Award nominations.
He's shepherded the dark, violent play "Hand to God" — featuring a satanic hand puppet — and the dance-heavy, sunny "Something Rotten!," a musical celebrating musicals.
They don't seem to have much in common, except they're typical McCollum shows — neither are based on previous material, both have writers making their Broadway debuts and neither have huge stars.
"We all tell our own stories the way we live our lives. My story is: Life is too short to not believe in fresh voices," he said. "I don't have Hollywood stars. I have great American artists."
McCollum's instincts have made him one of the most successful commercial producers on Broadway. His shows — "Rent," ''Avenue Q," ''The Drowsy Chaperone," ''(title of show)" and "In the Heights" — were risky and envelope-pushing when they were staged. Now they are simply seminal.
"In terms of his acumen as a producer, I'm pretty sure he can see the future, as he always seems to be two steps ahead. He seems to know what people want before they even do," said "Something Rotten!" leading man Brian d'Arcy James, who has worked with McCollum on six projects, including "The Wild Party" and "Irving Berlin's White Christmas."
While not always successful — he backed "High Fidelity" and "The Last Ship," both noble failures — his batting average is remarkably high considering he's competing against nonprofit theater companies and big British imports that often enjoy a subsidized birth.
Perhaps even more lasting is his backing of talent. He brought Lin-Manuel Miranda and Robert Lopez to Broadway. He championed playwright Rajiv Joseph and lyricist Amanda Green. He gave Casey Nicholaw and Thomas Kail their first directing breaks.
He kept the off-Broadway cast of Robert Askins' "Hand to God" when it transferred to Broadway, even though none of the actors are well-known. It paid off: Three of the play's five actors were nominated for Tonys, including Geneva Carr.
"He's given me a break because he thinks the play is so good and our commitment to it — giving our souls to this thing for several years — is worthy," Carr said. "I admire him so much for that."
McCollum, 53, who has a master's in film producing from the University of Southern California, is a stage producer who is active in all parts of a production's life, even the ads.
He dreamed up the "Hand to God" slogan: "No movie stars. No London transfer. No film adaptation. Pray for us." And it was he who set all ticket prices for the first few previews of "Something Rotten!" at $15.95, the date the musical is set.
In 2013, McCollum entered a partnership with 20th Century Fox and he hopes to make musicals of two of their films — "Mrs. Doubtfire" and "The Devil Wears Prada." ''Ever After," another Fox film, is slated to start performances later this month at the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey.
He's also backing "Diary of a Wimpy Kid the Musical" at the Children's Theatre Company in Minneapolis and "Ride the Cyclone" at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater in September.
McCollum points to two events to explain why he often champions new voices. One is the death of his single mother at age 40 when he was 14 and the other was the death of "Rent" writer and composer Jonathan Larson in 1996, just at the cusp of his fame.
"Those two things, for me, give me great drive. I love creating opportunities for people. I think it's my orphan mentality," said the four-time Tony-winner.
"My job is to give people an opportunity who never had an opportunity. How do you become great until someone takes a chance on you?"
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits