A circus and theater director, Philip William McKinley's name has been linked to high-profile Broadway productions over the last decade, such as the Tony award-winning The Boy From Oz and Julie Taymor's controversial Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark. (He stepped in to direct in 2011 after producers fired Taymor due to delays and artistic differences).
McKinley returns to Kansas City's Starlight Theatre to direct the Rodgers & Hammerstein classic, The Sound of Music. He talked about coming back to a place that supported him early in his career
On returning to Starlight
I feel like now in my career there comes a point where you have to give back; in order to pass along the knowledge that you've learned that you need to go back and revisit those places. And Starlight was incredibly supportive of me in my early career and kind of in the middle of the career, too.
I think what's great about Starlight: it provides that outdoor experience, which is so different from being under a roof and being confined. The night air gives you that kind of romantic setting that makes these revivals of these big glorious Golden Age musicals even more enjoyable.
I love going back to my old haunts and revisiting those places, particularly here in Kansas City because there's an amazing talent pool here of actors. And we have a lot of them in the show. There are 60 some people, I think 62 in the cast, and of that 62, over 50 of them are local performers, are local actors. And that's amazing that you can come to a place like this and have that resource pool.
On directing the classics
You know, I've done three productions of The Wizard of Oz here (at Starlight). And with The Sound of Music, or The Wizard of Oz, these chestnuts that are so well-known, my theory is that you don't really muck with them a lot.
I think the book writers of this era, they really wrote full characters and characters who had depth. And in the years, as the revivals have happened, I think people have not given them credit for that.
And I know this is such a cliché, but they do talk about: "Oh, they don't write them this way any more." They really don't write them this way any more. And I think it's because the book writers are not there as much any more because they've gone to television and film and that kind of thing. But we don't tend to listen as an audience as much any more.
So, I think, in the contemporary musicals, in many cases, the book writers are secondary to the music and the book writers sometimes feel like, I'm just there to serve as the link from song to song.
On taking over Spider-Man after producers fired Julie Taymor
It was an honor in a way to be called upon to take over that. I think a lot of directors just did not want to do it. People said, "You're either the bravest or the stupidest." And I thought, "Well, maybe a little bit of both."
I had retired. I had left New York and said, "I'm not doing this any more." And I had moved to Davenport, Iowa. And then three months later, they called and said, "Would you come and do Spider-Man?"
And I worked with a director whose name is George Abbott, who is probably considered to be one of the fathers of American theater. Mr. Abbott was phenomenal, you know, he did Damn Yankees. He had two and three shows on Broadway, all during the '50s and '60s.
And I was his assistant at one point when he was 100 years old. And I said to him, "How do you do it? How do you keep going on?" And he said, "Two things." He said, "One, I'll never direct the same show the same way. I always will take a different approach to it." Which I thought was smart because when you cast different actors, different actors bring something new to the table. "And second of all," he said to me,"I always do things that scare the hell out of me." And I've always held on to that.
On staying based in the Midwest
I love living in Davenport, Iowa. Because I spend a great deal of my life in the craziness of show business, I love being able to go home to a very neutral, normalcy kind of existence...
Now, having said that, I will tell you between now and Christmas, I'll only be home three weekends. But that's the life of the gypsy.
I guess retirement didn't work with me, it didn't seem to take - at least not yet.
'The Sound of Music,' July 25 - 31, at Starlight Theatre, 4600 Starlight Drive, Swope Park, Kansas City, Mo., 816-363-7827.