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Il Maestro at the Cash Register

 Maestro at the Cash Register

Il Maestro at the Cash Register

Volunteer Phil McKinley lives a double life at DAP Health’s Palm Desert Revivals.

Words by Kent Black • Photos by Lani Garfield • Spiderman Images Courtesy of Phil McKinley


As seen in DAP Health Magazine Issue 4 

Discovering Hidden Treasures at Palm Desert Revivals

Not long ago, Phil McKinley had a magical moment at the Palm Desert Revivals store where he volunteers. “A guy came up to the register with a beautiful midcentury lamp. We had it priced at 30 bucks,” laughs McKinley, who has been donating his time for four years. The customer used the image search feature on his phone and showed McKinley similar lamps. “He didn’t know if it was real or not. I said, ‘Go home and steam the felt off the bottom and see if there’s a signature. If it’s there, you have a $4,600 lamp.’”

From Small-Town Roots to Big City Bargains

A self-avowed shopaholic, McKinley recalls developing a keen eye for bargains growing up in the small farming community of Avon, Illinois. Many years later, one of his oldest friends in Beverly Hills introduced him to consignment shopping, and he was instantly smitten by the pre-loved. 

A Home Filled with Misty's Gems

When he and his partner, David, bought their home in Rancho Mirage in 2016, he became a regular at Misty’s Consignments. On a tour of his lovely, midcentury gem that Frank Sinatra built as a gift to his daughter, Tina — but that she declined, leaving Sinatra to let visiting musicians use it — McKinley points out some particularly spectacular finds, such as the $14,000 sectional sofa they got for $840, and a rare koa wood rocker from Hawaii that he bought for pocket change and was later appraised at over $7,500. “The whole house is practically Misty’s,” he says. “I said to Misty, ‘Want to come over and see what we bought from you?’ We had Misty and her whole crew over for a party.”

McKinley’s Highway 111 perambulations soon made him a regular at Revivals’ Cathedral City and Palm Desert locations. He got to know Steve, the store manager, who pulled him aside one day and suggested he become a volunteer. Given his Midwestern values, it made sense. His father was a volunteer fireman, and his mother was on the local board of education. McKinley had volunteered at a mental health facility during college. 

The problem was his rather demanding day job.

The Broadway Maestro Behind the Cash Register

Philip Wm. McKinley is a theatre director, choreographer, writer, and producer who has staged plays and spectacles from Broadway to Tokyo to Salzburg. Among his nearly countless productions have been “Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark,” one of the 20 all-time highest-grossing productions in Broadway history. His direction of “The Boy from Oz” with Hugh Jackman garnered five Tony nominations, and his production of “Zombie Prom” became a legendary off-Broadway cult classic. He staged “Ben Hur Live” in Europe with 350 actors and 100 animal performers, and directed seven editions of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey’s “The Greatest Show on Earth.” Along the way, he has picked up five Tony nominations, seven Barrymore nominations, an Emmy nomination, and a treasure chest of other awards. 

Balancing Stardom with Service

McKinley says he had an idyllic, small-town childhood. He and his playmates put on theatrical productions in the barn next door. “We’d invite all the neighborhood ladies and sell them lemonade.” He took piano from two elderly spinsters, and recalls staining their piano keys red from picking raspberries in their yard while his sisters had their lessons. 

He went off to Augustana College, where he emerged with a degree in education and a job offer to teach junior high school near Las Vegas. One day, a teaching colleague slapped down a flyer for auditions being held at the Stardust and dared McKinley to take a chance. He got the job. 

For the next several years, he sang, danced, did comedy for shows three times per day, seven days a week, no vacations. He once performed hours after having all four wisdom teeth out. He fainted offstage after the first number, but was revived and made it out for his second number. He was unfazed. “It wasn’t a job…it was a career.” 

After meeting David, his partner convinced him to move to New York. They did, and McKinley began his highly successful ascension of that city’s theatrical ladder.

When McKinley met DAP Health Volunteer Services Manager Marcie Lerner, he decided not to reveal his occupation, only that he was out of town quite often. Lerner told him they had a lot of snowbird volunteers. He could come in whenever he had the time. 

Embracing Community and Connection

McKinley found his groove at the Palm Desert store, and says he especially looks forward to working Sunday mornings with Lauren, a young volunteer, whom he helps with sorting through designer clothes. “I love my team,” he says, “And I love my customers. They’re such characters. Colleen Heidemann became a Vogue model when she was 69. She’s a regular Revivals shopper. Whenever she comes in, she’s dressed to the nines.”

A Home Filled with Misty's Gems

McKinley says the community he has found in the Palm Desert store strikes a familiar emotional chord in his Midwestern heart. He recalls Tom, the store’s greeter, who sat in a chair at the front, wearing a funny hat, and welcoming everyone who walked in the door. He’s in awe of Carol, who started as a shopper, and has become a hugely popular jewelry maker. And there’s Connie, a 97-year-old staff member who comes in every day. “She’s a teeny tiny thing, but she does everything…works as cashier, works in the back, you name it. She’s phenomenal.”

For the most part, McKinley manages to keep his superhero/impresario identity under wraps at Revivals, though every once in a while, worlds collide. Not long ago, a shopper came to the register, excited at his rare find: a mint condition program from “Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark.” 

“A co-worker opened the program to the title page and asked if the customer wanted the program signed by the director,” McKinley recalls. “My co-worker pointed to me and said, ‘He’s standing behind the register over there.’ We had a good laugh. That was a fun moment.”