INTERVIEW: West End director Keith Strachan takes Dancing In The Streets on tour
12:05pm Tuesday 20th October 2009 in What's On
Keith Strachan has gone from composing TV theme tunes to producing a hit West End show. He talks to NEWS SHOPPER as Dancing In The Streets goes on tour.
AFTER years of directing and devising tribute musicals for the stage and composing theme tunes for a variety of TV shows, Keith Strachan finally hit the jackpot when the producers of a new ITV quiz, Who Wants To Be Millionaire, called him in a panic.
Pop legend Pete Waterman had written the theme music, but they weren’t happy and they asked Keith to rearrange it.
The end result was like winning the Lottery, or indeed coming up with the right answer to Chris Tarrant’s million-pound question on the programme.
Next month, Keith’s hit West End production Dancing in the Streets opens at The Orchard Theatre in Dartford and celebrates 50 years of Motown and the greatest Motown hits.
More than 40 years after Diana Ross and the Supremes, Martha and the Vandellas, and Stevie Wonder first arrived in the UK in 1965 with the Tamla Motown Revue Tour, Dancing in the Streets recreates what it was like to be there at the time.
The show first started out as a concert in 2000, featuring some of the original Motown stars, including Edwin Starr, Martha Reeves, Freda Payne, and Mary Wilson of The Supremes.
Three years later Keith suggested reviving the show with sound-alikes and, in some cases, look-alikes.
He said: “We ended up playing two years in the West End in 2005, and now we are into our third national tour.
“This is the music I grew up with. Everyone knows these songs because they have been the backdrop to our lives for almost fifty years. I never tire of them.”
Now in his mid-60s, Strachan started out as a maths teacher, and it took Keith a couple of decades to feel secure enough to give up the day job and throw in his lot with the theatre.
In his university days he ran a successful jazz-rock band, which did a three-month European tour and secured a record deal.
When they split up, he took some of his songs to a music publisher, only to be told they sounded as if they would make a good stage musical.
Keith said: “The only musical I had seen that I liked was West Side Story, but I thought I would give it a go, so I wrote a spoof western called Shoot Up At Elbow Creek, with Leslie Stewart and Roy Trueman.
“Roy knew a director called Michael Richmond who was looking for a director for a musical to be produced at the Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond.
“I loved doing the show and I learnt so much from Michael. It didn’t take me long to decide this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”
A call out of the blue from playwright Ray Cooney was to set the seal on Keith Strachan’s future.
Cooney had seen Shoot Up At Elbow Creek at Greenwich, where it bombed, and invited Keith to be a musical director on his West End show Elvis the Musical, directed by the legendary Jack Good.
He said: “Considering both my previous shows had failed, I couldn’t believe my luck, directing a potential hit show in the West End and working with the great Jack Good.
“At last I was starting to earn a decent living from doing what I loved best, helping to create musicals.”
Strachan appears to have lost none of his youthful enthusiasm for the theatre, nor his team spirit, so crucial in any kind of musical endeavour.
“There is no greater thrill for me than being in a rehearsal room for three weeks creating a new show with a bunch of talented people. That is what I have always enjoyed about the theatre. It is what keeps me going.”
Dancing in the Streets. The Orchard Theatre, Dartford. November 17 to 21. 01322 220000.