Posted Online: Nov. 29, 2013, 12:00 am

Broadway director donates collection to Augustana

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By Jonathan Turner,

Broadway director and Augustana College alumnus Phil McKinley (class of '73) delivers the commencement address at the school in May 2012.
Forty years after he graduated from Augustana College, Broadway director Philip McKinley has donated a treasure trove of his personal and professional items to be permanently housed in the Thomas Treadway Library at the Rock Island school.

"I think he was ready to see them go somewhere," said Sarah Horowitz, special collections librarian. "He was excited that they would be used by students."

A 61-year-old native of Avon, Ill., Mr. McKinley directed "The Boy From Oz," starring Hugh Jackman (which earned him a 2004 Tony Award), and "Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark," the $75-million musical that was the most expensive in Broadway history. He also has directed more productions of Ringling Bros., Barnum and Bailey Circus than anyone else since it began in 1919.

The exhibit at Augustana, "From Avon to Broadway," contains materials from 1955 to the present and currently showcases highlights in six display cases on the first floor of the library. The collection consists of production materials, scrapbooks, photos, audiovisual materials and other artifacts. The papers largely relate to Mr. McKinley's career as an actor, writer, choreographer and director, but also contain some academic and personal papers.

His donation comprises the third largest collection of original documents given by a single donor to Augustana (after John Hauberg and Fritiof Fryxell) and already has been used in the classroom, Ms. Horowitz said. When laid out, the collection of 125 boxes covers 72 linear feet.

"I think the value is inestimable," Augustana theater department chairman Jeff Coussens said. "It is a comprehensive collection of materials from his life and career. The circus collection alone gives us an idea -- because of his long tenure -- a glimpse into circus production you wouldn't find anywhere else in the country."

Directing students can learn how Mr. McKinley adapted "The Boy From Oz" from its first production in Australia, re-writing the book and bringing it to Broadway, from casting to rehearsals to performance.

"You can see the anatomy of a Broadway production in very fresh terms," Mr. Coussens said, noting the huge collection will also grow over time with further donations. "You can look at the overall arc of his career, get an idea of what it takes to succeed at his level in the professional world."

"It really shows how a liberal arts education and well-rounded experience in theater arts in particular really helps you to navigate your path once you graduate," he added.

Among items in the display cases are:

-- A program and page of sheet music from his 1980 adaptation of "A Christmas Carol," for which Mr. McKinley wrote the book and co-wrote the score with Suzanne Buher.
-- A photo of him as the lead role in "Dracula," from a 1979 production at the Meadows Playhouse in Las Vegas.
-- The ringmaster's top hat from the first African-American ringmaster in Ringling Bros., Barnum & Bailey history.
-- A "Boy From Oz" script page and a red spangled shirt worn by Hugh Jackman in the show.
-- A "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" Playbill, and script notes written by Mr. McKinley in 2010 and 2011. ("It's a matter of clarifying the story, infusing the main characters with warmth, telling the story clearly and deciding the strength of the 'myth' story..." he wrote.)

In March 2011, he was tapped to replace Julie Taymor on the beleaguered "Spider-Man" show (with a score by U2's Bono and the Edge), which had been in previews since November 2010 and was savaged by critics. It was rewritten, and the version Mr. McKinley directed was about 90 percent different from what it originally had been, formally opening June 14, 2011.

Though it was snubbed in major Tony Award categories, it was a box-office champ -- when it welcomed its millionth audience member, it reached that number faster than any other show in Broadway history. It is scheduled to close on Jan. 4, 2014, with plans to play in Las Vegas.

While a student at Augustana, Mr. McKinley participated as an actor and a choreographer in Augie theater and also Playcrafters Barn Theatre in Moline. He graduated after three years with majors in education, speech, drama, music, English and the visual arts. In 1981, he directed Circa '21's production of "Fiddler on the Roof."

Among the international productions he's directed are "Voyage de la Vie," a circus spectacular for Resorts World Sentosa off the coast of Singapore, and "Ben Hur Live," an operatic show that had its premiere in 2009 at London's O2 Dome.

In 2007, Mr. McKinley was a visiting professor at St. Ambrose University, Davenport, where he directed "Creme de Coco." He directed a Curtainbox Theatre Co. production of "Wit" in summer 2010 in the Village of East Davenport, and soon after he purchased a home in Davenport. Mr. McKinley received an honorary doctorate at Augustana in 2012, and he gave the commencement address.

He is back at his alma mater directing "A Green River," by Aaron Randolph III, to be performed Dec. 11-15, in Potter Theatre on the upper level of the Bergendoff Hall of Fine Arts.

Augustana Special Collections will host a reception with Mr. McKinley this Wednesday from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. on the first floor of the Tredway Library (3435 9 1/2 Ave.). The event is free and open to the public. Anyone can view items in Special Collections during its regular hours (Monday to Thursday 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.), or by appointment (by calling 309-794-8814).

A complete guide to Mr. McKinley's collection (in display cases through Dec. 12) can be found through the Special Collections page at