Q&A with Wade McCollum from It Happened In Key West
| By Kay Johal
Undying love is taken to a whole new level in this summer's surprise hit, which stars American actor Wade McCollum. In addition to stage and film acting, McCollum is also a musician and composer. His ear for music certainly brings a bit of zest in It Happened In Key West, with many critics and audiences praising his strong performance as eccentric scientist Carl Tanzler, whose desperation to love and be loved is taken to necrophilic extremes. We were lucky enough to sit down and have a chat with the star of the show himself, Wade McCollum. Read our exclusive Q&A session below.
Pictured: Wade McCollum belts away at the Charing Cross Theatre
How are you enjoying London? Have you managed to experience any of the traditions, such as afternoon tea, or to visit all the parks we are blessed to have?
I am LOVING London so much! What a beautiful city! I have been to several parks and gardens and I am astonished by the beauty and reverence for nature in this city. I look forward to continuing my exploration of the parks and gardens. SO many!
So far I have had the pleasure of having afternoon tea with a friend, a glorious tradition with the best tea ever, and delicious cake.
Have you managed to catch any other shows whilst you have been here? Any homegrown favourites?
I have seen three beautiful shows whilst here so far: Brief Encounter, The Jungle and Everybody's Talking About Jamie. All brilliant, superlative productions! So deeply moved and honoured to be a small part of this exquisite and excellent theatre community for a window of time.
Key West is quite the hot topic in theatre at the moment. What attracted you and ultimately made you personally invest in this role?
I was attracted by the talented creative team and a bizarre, challenging story. But to be honest, at first I could barely read the script. I was on my honeymoon when they sent the script for the workshop and I didn’t finish it. I did not resonate with the story initially. I couldn’t get past the trappings of the plot, and it grossed me out. But, when I arrived for our rehearsals and we read and sang through the whole thing, I was deeply moved. The dynamic mash-up of this lush romantic music, the winking humour and heart in the book and this ultimately bonkers story moved me. I became curious and passionate about finding the kernel of universality that lives within Carl and his crazy choices. Ultimately he is driven by love, and yes, love can make people do insane things.
The Count is clearly an intellectual, but has no common sense or street smarts. How easy is it to portray the character whilst keeping true to the facts of the story?
He is a very eccentric man, and it’s always tricky playing a historical character. Ultimately, it’s my job to play the character that is on the page. What’s awesome about new work is it is constantly evolving; it is that evolution and collaboration that I love the most. I feel like Carl’s hyper-intelligence is a piece of what will not allow him to break his promise to protect Elena in life and in death.
There is no implication of any wrongdoing between the Count and Elena (after she has passed). Is it fair to say that the Count was obsessed with her, or simply a man in love?
I do not claim to know about the actual Carl, but this character of Carl Is definitely obsessed with finding his soulmate. He (and the actual Carl) travelled the world for forty years searching for her. An odyssey of epic proportions that ended in Key West. After he found her and she is dying, he promises to protect her in life and in death, and when she dies he becomes singly focused on keeping his promise to her. From the character's perspective, he is simply following her instructions. Or what he believes are her instructions. Love motivating all of it, as misguided or crazy as it is.
Given the tragic nature of this true story, how do you find light in what is clearly a very dark role and maintain a comical streak throughout?
I think this show does a good job of winking at the audience, letting the audience in on the fact that this absurdity is based on a true story, and that makes it even more unbelievable. Comedy often comes from pain, suffering and incongruent actions, so playing the truth of each moment is all I can do.
'Undying love' is the anthem of the show. It can be interpreted as literal or actual. How do you portray it? And what does it mean to you, first and foremost, as a human being and, secondly, as an actor?
As a human, it is my prayer for all of humanity that love is awake in all our hearts and that this infinite intelligent love is an undying spring of compassion from which we can share, connect and thrive.
As an actor, it feels like the character is affirming his vow to protect her in life and in death.
It Happened In Key West opened at the Charing Cross Theatre on 4 July and is booking until 18 August 2018. The musical is based on true events that transpired in 1930's Florida and it offers something a bit different for West End audiences. With just two weeks left, be sure to catch this spectacular production before its final curtain!
Purchase your tickets to It Happened In Key West here.