Honolulu Star-Bulletin Local News

Local boy Kevin McCollum followed
his dream and found fame ...


By Tim Ryan

It's midnight in St. Paul, Minn., and Broadway producer and former Honolulu resident Kevin McCollum is talking about his mother's death 20 years ago in Paris.

"It was summer and I was to meet her at my grandparent's home in Illinois. The day after I arrived from Honolulu ... we got a call from the U.S. Embassy that she had died (from breast cancer,)" he said in a telephone interview. "We had thought it was in remission.

"I was devastated. She was a friend and confidante and my mom."

Sue McCollum was 40.

Kevin's recollection as that 14-year-old in 1976 is almost eerie. He remembers the exact time of the call, even the dinner served. It was, he says in a hushed tone, "a defining moment in my life."

"She always followed her dream. I knew I would follow mine."

Kevin McCollum, 34, not only followed his dream to New York but has achieved it. This year he is the toast of Broadway as co-pro

ducer of the surprise hit "Rent." It led the Tony awards with 10 nominations and won four, including Best Musical. The alternative-rock musical also won the Drama League Award as Best Musical and the Pulitzer Prize, only the seventh time a musical has won the award.

"'Rent' is entertainment that is truly a redemptive rather than destructive story," he said. "It's not like say, a 'Guns 'N' Roses' concert which is about young people getting on stage and screaming and acting disenfranchised when they haven't done any of the work yet."

To prove his point, McCollum sings a verse from "Rent's" "Seasons of Love."

"How do you measure a life in a year? 525,600 minutes, cups of coffee, speeding tickets. How about love."

"It asks why we don't measure life in love. I'm not real religious, but I am a person and I need love to survive. We're malnourished for stories about taking care of each other as human beings. Instead, there is this self-driven fascination with how badly we can rape the human spirit."

The road to a dream

Kevin McCollum's life has been not only a testimony to pursuing a dream but obtaining it.

He's acted in major theatrical productions; worked as a production executive on Walt Disney hits; produced and started his own distribution company with such hits as "Damn Yankees" with Jerry Lewis, "Twilight Los Angeles," "Oleanna" and "West Side Story;" and executive produced the feature film, "Jeffrey," based on the off-Broadway hit.

McCollum remembers his mom as the daughter of Joe Goldberg, a Chicago lawyer and someone whose children did not become actresses.

"But she was very talented with an incredible passion for the theater."

Susan McCollum performed in several Honolulu Community Theatre productions and on "Hawaii Five-0," wrote several Honolulu Press Club Gridiron shows and was the voice of Liberty House for many years.

Kevin assisted her in theater productions, sometimes operating spotlights when needed.

McCollum's biological father, Tom, whom his mother had divorced several years earlier, also died in 1976.

Her second marriage, to Janos Gereben, Star-Bulletin art and drama critic, also ended in divorce.

Hawaii's early influence

McCollum left Hawaii after his mother's death but insists that being born and raised in Hawaii "defined me in many ways."

In local theater, there were always actors and directors to learn from. At Punahou School, a seventh grade choir teacher constantly praised his talents.

And his mom's male suitors were fascinated at the young man's singing, acting, and improvisational abilities.

"Male mentors meant a lot to me. ... I filled in a lot of blanks as a kid."

But in retrospect, McCollum believes moving to Illinois to live with his aunt's family was for the best.

"I was always a follower. Then all of a sudden I was on my own in a new place with a new family. Slowly, I learned that I didn't have to buy into what people say you can and can't do."

New life on the mainland

He quickly began turning dreams into reality. In his new high school he assimilated quickly, becoming student body president and organizing social and cultural events. At the University of Cincinnati he performed in summer stock "and even earned a salary," he said.

He continued acting until he was 25 but quit because "it didn't fuel my spirit." Now he wanted to learn about filmmaking in graduate school at the University of Southern California. But the program he wanted only accepted 16 students.

"I had met Disney (honcho) Michael Eisner while performing in a play that he liked," McCollum said. "So I wrote Eisner asking for an endorsement in to the film program."

Helping hands on the way

Eisner remembered the young actor, liked his assertiveness, and Disney provided the coveted endorsement. McCollum also got an endorsement from former Hawaii congressman Cec Heftel.

After graduation he joined the Disney team for two years, then quit to produce live theater in Los Angeles. He was successful and later became associate producer at the St. Louis MUNY, a 12,000-seat, outdoor theater.

Soon he founded his own booking and distribution company, The Booking Office, in New York City which manages more than $35 million in Broadway productions each year.

And last September he was made president and chief executive officer at the Ordway Music Theatre in Minneapolis.

A quick, not easy, ascent

It seems, the reporter muses, that McCollum's meteoric climb was easy. McCollum hesitates several seconds before answering.

"I work very hard and I've lost my marriage. I don't have any children, and I really want children. I haven't had a vacation in a long time."

It's been 18 years since McCollum has been in Hawaii.

"For a long time I felt if I had come back too early it would have gotten in the way of me moving on. I really love the beach. I used to skim board in front of the Kahala Hilton and bodysurf all over. I miss that a lot."

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