A ‘Wrong’ Play That’s Comically Right

by R. J. Donovan
Special to the BIR

From the time he was a small boy growing up in Marblehead, Lucas McMahon set his sights on becoming a commercial theatrical producer. Even when he was performing in a show, he was focused on what was going on backstage, behind the scenes.

This month, Lucas returns to Boston as a co-producer of the national tour of “The Play That Goes Wrong,” coming to The Emerson Colonial Theatre from Nov. 7 to Nov. 18.

“The Play That Goes Wrong” is an out of control comedy about the theater. Co-written by Mischief Theatre Company members Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields, the play looks at “The Cornley University Drama Society” attempting to present a 1920s’ murder mystery. Despite the best of intentions, everything falls apart as the accident-prone thespians race to their final curtain.

The New York production continues at Broadway’s Lyceum Theatre while the original London company is in its fourth year of phenomenal business.
All of this is remarkable when you consider that the play began at a London fringe theater with an audience of four at its first performance. It has now been seen by more than 2 million people around the world.

Lucas was born in Boston and attended Phillips Academy before heading to Northwestern University. He spent a summer handling publicity at Williamstown Theatre Festival and then joined the New York offices of Tony Award-winning producer Kevin McCollum (“In The Heights,” “Avenue Q” and “Rent”). His parents still live on the North Shore and his brother and sister live in the Back Bay, across the street from each other. Lucas previously worked on the national tour of “Something Rotten” that played The Opera House.

He spoke about his work by phone from his office in Manhattan. Here’s a condensed look at our conversation.

Q. How do you describe the job of Producer?
A. There’s the kind of functional aspects of the job of producer. And there’s also the philosophical aspects. And they’re both equal in importance. Functionally, a producer is the person who oversees the development of a project. They hire the creative team, they oversee the artistic development of the show as well as the marketing and the fundraising to make the project happen.

Q. And the philosophical?
A. The philosophical aspect is really kind of setting the tone, for everyone from the creative team, to the actors, to the marketing team, to the backstage crew – what the shared goals are of the project and creating a real sense of teamwork . . . So many different people work to make one show happen, and it’s the producer’s job to make sure they’re all driving towards the same goal.

Q. You’ve had your heart set on “putting it together” since you were a kid.
A. When I was in elementary school I actually convinced the school to let me use the free period to create a theater club where I produced and directed plays with my classmates. In fourth, fifth and sixth grade. It was always kind of what I wanted to do.

Q. How did that impact your time at Phillips Academy?
A. They had a phenomenal theater program where students could direct and produce and be really involved in the production process of the shows. And that’s really when I found my kind of passion for producing . . . They encouraged us to dream big and gave us the resources and the support to achieve those goals.

Q. Tell me about working at Williamstown.
A. I ran their PR operation in 2012 . . . That was the season Bradley Cooper and Patricia Clarkson were doing “Elephant Man,” and Blythe Danner was doing a new play, and Tyne Daly was there as Lady Bracknell in “Importance of Being Earnest” with David Hyde Pierce directing. Kelli O’Hara was there in “Far From Heaven.” It really was a spectacular season with incredibly talented people.

Q. I understand you have a personal history with The Colonial.
A. I saw my first show at The Colonial Theater. “Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” with Donny Osmond and I absolutely loved it. I saw it with my Nana. There are two sides of my family. I have my Boston Irish side and my Russian Jewish side, so I’m an Irish Jew. (Laughing) I’m very proud of that combo.

Q. Producer Kevin McCollum really gave you’re your professional start and brought you up through the ranks.
A. A friend of mine from college worked for Kevin. When I was graduating (college), he knew Kevin was looking for a new assistant. Kevin was a hero of mine . . . He had done so much work that I deeply respected . . . The opportunity to sit down with him was so exciting . . . So I flew to New York (from Chicago) and had a meeting and we really just hit it off. After that I called him and said, “You have to hire me. I’m not gonna let you not” . . . I’ve been with the company ever since.

Q. And now you’re back in Boston with a show. Somewhere your grandmother must be smiling.
A. My Nana (Frances McMahon) was one of the most influential people in my life. She was a classic Boston Irish matriarch. She had six kids and 12 grandchildren and she was so proud of all of us . . . I know she’s still with us and being able to bring shows to Boston reminds me of her and that’s really special . . . She would be telling anyone who walked past, “My grandson has a show at The Colonial!”

R. J. Donovan is editor and publisher of onstageboston.com.
“The Play That Goes Wrong,” Nov. 7 - 18, Emerson Colonial Theatre, 106 Boylston Street, Boston. Info: 888-616-0272 or broadwayinboston.com.