Wade McCollum: 12 questions

American performer Wade McCollum tells us about launching new musical It Happened In Key West, based on an extraordinary real US event.

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It Happened In Key West, in which US actor Wade McCollum makes his London debut, is a classic musical love story… with a difference. It has the barriers to romance that you might expect. He’s an x-ray technician searching for love. She’s already married, and has tuberculosis.

But Carl, played by McCollum, won’t let these things stand in the way of love. It’s not giving too much away to say that he won’t let death come between them either. When she succumbs to the disease, everything turns a little bit Frankenstein as Carl tries to keep them together forever.

If you’re thinking this all sounds a little unbelievable, think again. It’s based on events that actually happened in 1930s Florida.

Wade McCollum tells us more about the musical comedy playing at Charing Cross Theatre:

It Happened In Key West at Charing Cross Theatre (Image courtesy of Kevin Wilson PR)
It Happened In Key West at Charing Cross Theatre (Image courtesy of Kevin Wilson PR)

How would you describe It Happened In Key West?

It’s one of the most moving shows I’ve ever been a part of. I did not expect it to be as hilarious romantic, quirky and heartbreaking as it is. Even though at its core it addresses death and grief, it’s one of the most life affirming productions I’ve ever experienced.

You play Carl. What’s he like?

Carl is optimistic, maybe to a fault. He is deeply romantic and knows that true love transcends death. He is an eccentric, complex and fascinating character who follows through with his promises, no matter what.

What made you want to be part of this show?

The creative team, the music, the humour and the challenge. I love working on new material and being a part of the thrilling experience of forging a new show. I’m always deeply inspired by the courage and audacity it takes to make a new musical. To have the honour of creating a character in collaboration with such creative luminaries is deeply nourishing.

How much of the story is true and how much is artistic license?

It’s 90% truth and 10% artistic license.

How do you feel about making your London debut?

Every day I pinch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming all of this. It really is a dream come true. I am sincerely humbled and grateful to be welcomed by this extraordinary cast and community. I’m ecstatic beyond measure.

How do you feel about performing at Charing Cross Theatre?

The Charing Cross Theatre is a perfect venue for It Happened In Key West. It’s intimate and grand. It has a rich history, as so many exquisite productions have blessed this space. I feel honoured to be performing there.

It Happened In Key West at Charing Cross Theatre (Image courtesy of Kevin Wilson PR)
It Happened In Key West, starring Wade McCollum, at Charing Cross Theatre (Image courtesy of Kevin Wilson PR)

What was your first experience of theatre?

I went to school in Ashland, Oregon. It’s home of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, which is one of largest regional theatres in the USA. The town’s sole industry is theatre. Millions of people flock there nine months of the year to see shows. It’s a very special place to live. My first show was Major Barbara in seventh grade. I was surprisingly into George Bernard Shaw, and that passion has not waned.

Why is watching a live performance so special?

Live performance is magical. There is nothing that can replace the rapport between audience and performer. There is a sacred opportunity in a live performance that can be transformative for audience and theatre artisan. At its most potent, live theatre can inspire more empathy, compassion and love in the world.

What one piece of advice would you give aspiring performers?

Stay curious and generous. Persist through the hard times. Love yourself, know yourself and share. Live with intention and wakefulness on and off stage. That’s more than one.

What are you looking forward to experiencing while you’re living in London?

As much as I can! I’ve been walking miles and miles every day. This city is so rich with enchantment and history. The parks are gorgeous. Hampstead Heath is unbelievable. Seeing as much theatre as possible – definitely something at Shakespeare’s Globe. I mean, that’s where it all began! If you have any suggestions, I’m open…

Which one other London show are you excited about at the moment?

I saw Brief Encounter today and was completely blown away. That company is perfection. I left so inspired. I also saw Everybody’s Talking About Jamie and was deeply moved and inspired. It’s an incredible show.

I’m also very excited about the It Happened In Key West company! I am so blessed to get to go to work every day and hear some of the best voices I’ve ever heard sing these gorgeous, lush, stirring songs and vocal arrangements. When we add the orchestra, I might just melt.

What’s your top tip for a trip to the theatre?

Turn the phone off, pre-order a drink for the interval and remember to turn your phone off again after the interval.

Wade McCollum stars in It Happened In Key West at Charing Cross Theatre until 18 August.