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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, May 4, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 18
SGN interviews Million Dollar Quartet's Martin Kaye
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SGN interviews Million Dollar Quartet's Martin Kaye

by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN A&E Writer

Million Dollar Quartet
May 15-20
Paramount Theatre


Martin Kaye has always wanted to be a performer. He's lived the life of a cruise ship entertainer, a cast member of the theater, and a solo performer as well. Currently, he is taking on the role of Jerry Lee Lewis for the Tony Award-nominated show Million Dollar Quartet. The show is based on the night of December 4, 1958, when four major singing sensations (Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash) came together at Sam Phillips' recording studio. That night made musical history, and the Broadway hit made theatrical history. The Seattle Gay News caught up with Martin Kaye as Million Dollar Quartet prepares to make its Seattle debut.

Eric Andrews-Katz: Who were your earliest influences in becoming a performer?

Martin Kaye: Elton John was a very big influence. I grew up listening to him. My dad played the piano and played his music as well. When I learned to play the piano, I got more into his stuff. I also grew up watching and listening to Michael Jackson. He wasn't so much of an influence as someone I looked up to and watched when younger.

Andrews-Katz: What was your first public performance?

Kaye: Oh, bloody hell. I think it was an advert for TV. For vegetables, I think. I was 3 or maybe 5 years old. I think it was peas. I don't remember it too vividly.

Andrews-Katz: In 2007, you joined a cruise ship as a performer and traveled around the world. What was the most important thing you learned from being a cruise ship performer?

Kaye: Definitely the most important thing is that people just want to be entertained. I would sit and play and halfway through my contract, I realized that people just want to laugh and relax and just be entertained. The music is important, but it's more about the entertainment than the music itself.

Andrews-Katz: How did you come to audition for Million Dollar Quartet?

Kaye: I was doing some gigs in New York and in Long Island at restaurants and pubs and stuff. My agent rang me up and told me about the audition. I went for it, and that was pretty much it. I did the audition and wasn't expecting to get it. But I'm really glad since I act like a clown when I play anyway.

Andrews-Katz: Were you a fan of Jerry Lee Lewis before you auditioned for the role?

Kaye: It's not that I wasn't a fan; I just didn't know his music very well. I knew 'Great Balls of Fire,' but not much else. I've learned a lot more since I started with the show. When I got the audition I looked into him a little bit more.

Andrews-Katz: Million Dollar Quartet is based on the fortuitous night four great singers came together in a studio. Do you find it more or less challenging to play someone who is still living?

Kaye: I don't really think about that. It doesn't really come into mind unless he is in the audience. Obviously he is the only one still alive, and people still absolutely adore him and still have strong feelings about him. It's pretty cool to be playing someone still alive and still doing things they are doing.

Andrews-Katz: Has Jerry Lee Lewis seen you perform? If so, what were some of his commentary?

Kaye: No. At least he hasn't come see me yet. He was going to see us when we were in Memphis, but he wasn't well enough to come that day. He saw the show during the original run in New York when it was on Broadway.

Andrews-Katz: When performing some of Jerry Lee Lewis' tricks at the piano, do you actually play at the same time, or is some of the music prerecorded?

Kaye: Nope. Everything that you see is everything that you hear. There's nothing prerecorded or faked. We are really doing what you think we're doing. That's why it makes it cooler when they casted the show, to have to find musicians who are capable of actually doing the material as well as finding actors that have the ability.

Andrews-Katz: What is something new you learned about Jerry Lee Lewis since you took on the role?

Kaye: I've learned how to speak 'redneck.' I learned how to get into that mindset of being a Southern, strong Christian minded person. I didn't grow up with that at all. I grew up an English Jewish boy. It's a totally different world. Growing up with gospel music in that time period in the South is so different from the world we live in now. I read a biography on Jerry Lee and learned a lot about where he came from and who he was and why he did what he does. The commitment he has to his religion or his music. It's very interesting to play someone who is so conflicted.

Andrews-Katz: You have three CDs so far. How would you describe the music you have chosen for your own individual work?

Kaye: I have only one CD out right now. I'm finishing the second one - it's still in the mixing stages. I have actually another recorded but it hasn't been released yet. I've finished three but only one has been released. The first CD is quite eclectic and is a mixture of funky jazz, soul, and a little R&B. I grew up with a lot of jazz so that influence comes through. The second one is more contemporary, more pop. It's more mature actually - not that my first was immature - but the second CD reflects my feelings since I've met my fiancée. The third album I did was with Kenny Nolan - a '70s artist/writer.

Andrews-Katz: Regardless of gender, what roles would you like to take on in the future?

Kaye: I'd love to play Peter Allen in The Boy From Oz - that would be a great role to play. One day, maybe, I'd like to play Marius, but I don't think that would ever happen. It's kind of a dream role for any guy to play in Les Miserables.

Million Dollar Quartet started at Issaquah's Village Theatre. It moved to New York and opened on Broadway on April 11, 2012, and ran for more than 480 performances. Songs that were recorded at this impromptu jam session include 'Crazy Arms,' 'Blue Suede Shoes,' 'Fever,' 'Sixteen Tons,' 'I Walk the Line,' 'Matchbox,' and many other hits.

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