By R. J. Donovan
Special to The BIR
The actor Kevin McMahon was born in Brighton, grew up in Framingham, and graduated from Marian Academy and Boston Conservatory. All of which makes his appearing in the national touring company of Broadway's "Wicked" at The Opera House a true homecoming.
The phenomenally successful "Wicked" tells the musical story of the two witches of Oz, good and evil, long before Dorothy toppled from the sky. McMahon plays the father of the Wicked Witch as well as a multitude of smaller roles throughout the show, including the Emerald City Guard who bellows the iconic line, "The Wizard will see you now!" As if that isn't enough, he also understudies the roles of Professor Dillamond and The Wizard himself.
Now living on the West Coast, and with a multifaceted career as an actor, singer, and writer, he has performed everywhere from off-Broadway to Ireland. His theatrical credits include roles in such shows as "City of Angels," "Sweeney Todd" and "A Little Night Music" along with a two-year run as Jinx in the San Diego production of "Forever Plaid." As well, the L.A. Times called his performance in "Roar Of The Greasepaint" "heart-stopping."
We had a chance to speak the morning after the show's official opening night last month. While "Wicked" is currently in its third visit to town, this is McMahon's first time playing the show in Boston. He joined the company a year ago November, shortly after it's last stop at The Opera House. Here's a condensed look at our conversation.
BIR: The opening night crowd was very enthusiastic. It must be gratifying to be performing in a show that's so warmly embraced by audiences.
KM: It's a phenomenon. I've only been in one other show in my lifetime that's been anywhere near this, and it was on a much smaller scale. "Wicked" is such a privilege to be a part of.
BIR: So, you were born in Brighton.
KM: Born in Brighton at St. Elizabeth's. My mother was a nurse there.
BIR: And you went to school at Marian High. What shows were you in there?
KM: I was in "The Pajama Game" and I remember the nuns editing the show. Scenes for sexual content all taken out. We didn't know that until I saw the show later and I said 'Wait a minute, we didn't do that scene." And I realized that the nuns had edited it all.
BIR: Part and parcel of going to Catholic school?
KM: (Laughing) Exactly.
BIR: How did you come to study at Boston Conservatory.
KM: I had a teacher in high school — Rosemary Costa — was who a graduate of the Conservatory, and she introduced us to the school. Little did I know it was one of the best schools in the country. I got in and was happy to go there.
BIR: What do you remember from those days.
KM: You know, I think in any kind of school for the performing arts, or in any college for that matter, you find two or three good professors who influence you. That can make or break your college experience. I had two that were amazing. A voice teacher named Mary Saunders, still teaching there, I just spoke with her yesterday actually, and an acting teacher named Robert Lieberker. I think he's retired now, but he was one of those people who was really inspiring. You wanted to please him and do everything right for him and get the lead role in his shows.
BIR: I hear you have dual citizenship, American and Irish. Tell me about that.
KM: Well my grandparents were all born in Ireland and came over in the 1920s . . . My mother was a proud Irish American, as my Dad was. My mother passed away when she was very young . . . and never got to go back to Ireland. I wanted to tie in with the roots, so I applied for citizenship in Ireland. I was over in Ireland with a show, and I went to the consulate and I went to the registry and got all the birth certificates that are necessary and registered everything. And so I keep my Irish passport and have my Irish citizenship because I'm very proud of that. I don't know if I’d ever want to live there full time, but I'm keeping that option open. It's a beautiful place. I've been there three or four times and I’d love to spend more time over in Ireland.
BIR: What show were you doing there?
KM: It was a show I did in Los Angeles, "Love Of A Pig," and an Irish actress named Fionnula Flanagan, pretty well known, was one of the producers. She was involved with the Irish Life Festival and she arranged for us to go over and do the show as part of the festival. We spent a couple of weeks in Dublin and it was amazing. My dad came over to see the show. It was pretty great.
BIR: I see from your bio that you've also done "The Full Monty." You must be sick of being asked, but isn't it a little daunting the first time you're naked on stage.
KM: It certainly is. It's done in a way that the lights blind the audience. But in one production that I did, the lights didn't work. So there we were, in our full glory. They saw everything. It happens.
BIR: I know that actors often have a special moment in a show that personally means a lot to them. It may not be the biggest laugh or the biggest musical number, but it's a moment that just grabs them. Is there something like that for you in "Wicked?"
KM: There's a moment at the end of the first act where Elphaba is flying on her broom — the climax of the first act — and I'm the guard that comes in and grabs Glinda. She escapes from us and we charge the Witch. Then we fly backwards and fall on the floor. And we get to see the actress playing Elphaba [Jackie Burns] rise above us every night. It's such a spellbinding moment. And I get to witness that every night, front and center, on the floor. It's the best seat in the house."
"Wicked," through October 17 at The Boston Opera House, 539 Washington Street. Tickets: 1-800-982-2787 or BroadwayAcrossAmerica.com/Boston.