Keith Thompson is the “Son of a Preacher Man” from down South in Alabama. Encouraged by his High School choir teacher, Keith went on to college, graduating with two music degrees from William Carey University in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. College friends introduced young Keith to the music of Broadway through Show Business luminaries like Ethel Merman, Barbra Streisand, Judy Garland, and Liza Minelli.
Keith quickly turned his direction from writing religious songs to writing Musical Theatre. A tiny local theater group wrote and produced a show, believe it or not, called, “Cleavage – A Titillating New Musical Comedy” or, the more PC, “A Musical Close to Where the Heart Is.” It must have been the comedic influence of Keith’s friends that provided him with his hilarious on-stage persona, “Honest and Real!”-real funny that is!
Staying in NYC after “Cleavage” closed, Keith worked the Dinner Theater circuit until he landed a job in “Les Miserables” on Broadway as a “sub” on and off for three years while also teaching at NYU. In New York, Keith got to work with a lot of very funny people like Buddy Sheffield.
Keith and Buddy worked on “Roundhouse,” a show on Nickelodeon, for which Keith moved to L.A. for a short while before going back to NYC where he worked on various shows such as, “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” with Donny Osmond and the first national tour of “Mamma Mia,” before moving to Vegas for “We Will Rock You” the Musical, and the chance to work with Brian May of Queen.
JS: How did Composers Showcase start?
KT: While I was working on “We Will Rock You” I was writing songs and putting together demos, using the people I worked with in the show. I was getting to know the Las Vegas theatre community. Then “Hairspray” opened. The female lead actress had been one of my students at NYU and had performed in one of my original musicals Off-Broadway. Michael Brennan, Wayne Green, Richard Oberacker and I were all writing musicals in Las Vegas. The group suggested getting together and sharing three or four of our original songs each month and The Composers Showcase was born.
The Composers Showcase started at a tragic little bar called, “Suede” and the president of the Liberace Museum came and saw us and said, “Hey, we have a little Cabaret room, why don’t you do the showcase there?”
The Composers Showcase was at the Liberace Museum for three and a half years. The Theatre community in Las Vegas was thriving with shows like “Phantom,” “Avenue Q,” “Hairspray,” “The Producers” and “Spamalot”. “Jersey Boys” opened in 2008 and I was hired to be the Musical Director. The theatre community was healthy and ALIVE!
Then the Liberace Museum closed in 2010 and the Composers Showcase had no home. We floated around for about a year and a half, looking at different venues and trying to keep the idea of the Composers Showcase alive. When I say “we,” I mean “me!” I was the one-man driving force. But anytime I reached out, people would say “YES” and support the effort. Then the Smith Center opened in 2012.
JS: I am often amazed at how quickly the crew changes the set around and how well the show is paced and orchestrated. How much of the musical arranging do you do?
KT: If a composer comes to me with their band, great! But, if someone has a song that needs a string quartet, or a horn section, I will agree to write the charts and make it happen.
JS: Composers Showcase is a bit of an incubator with songwriters like Daniel Emmet almost winning “America’s Got Talent” and Richard Oberacker’s show, “Bandstand,” going to Broadway and winning a Tony Award. How does that make you feel?
KT: It makes me very happy. When we became a non-profit organization, we had to focus on our mission which is to provide a platform for writers who are seeking to get their music out there and to support their efforts the best we can. We now offer a scholarship at UNLV for young writers who major in composition or jazz composition. We’ve just started that and it’s a the beginning of a four-year journey for us.
JS: Your performance as jovial host of The Composers Showcase is pretty consistent each month, but are their similarities to each show?
KT: Each Composers Showcase is very different. We know our audience likes to laugh and enjoys funny songs so we invite back songwriters like Mark Wherry from the College of Southern Nevada (CSN), Danny Roque from L.A. and comedian Dennis Blair who is a brilliant stand-up comedian, but who writes some of the saddest songs you’ve ever heard. Vita Corimbi, (Menopause, The Musical), was one of our original songwriters in 2006 and she has always been one of my favorites. I am crazy about her.
JS: Do you get a lot of celebrities at The Composers Showcase looking for new material?
KT: We’ve had a lot of very successful and famous songwriters and performers join our fun. Stars like Olivia Newton John, Debbie Gibson, The Righteous Brothers (Bill Medley & Bucky Heard),
Susan Anton and even Priscilla Presley have participated in our showcase.
JS: What advice would you give to a young songwriter?
KT: My advice is simply to keep writing. If you’re a songwriter, then you write every day about everything that happens to you. You have to listen to others people’s music and take that into account. Don’t be afraid to take the advice of other writers, but also, don’t be afraid to ignore it.
We’re celebrating our 8th year at Myron’s Cabaret Jazz at The Smith Center in April. The Composers Showcase is a “Must- See” show that brings together songwriters, singers and an audience, many of whom are experiencing the Smith Center for the first time.
JS: Keith Thompson’s favorite lyricists are Alan and Marilyn Bergman, fittingly the writers of “How Do You Keep The Music Playing”.
To Watch videos from past shows and purchase tickets to The Composers Showcase, visit their website at www.thecomposersshowcase.com