What would you do if you got the chance to meet your all-time hero? That’s what crossed Martin Kaye’s mind when he found himself performing in Las Vegas as Jerry Lee Lewis in Million Dollar Quartet at the same time as his hero, Elton John was in residency at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace with his The Million Dollar Piano show.
A few years later and that thought grew into the basis for a new show, Elton John: It’s A Little Bit Funny, which tells the imagined tale of an extraordinary night in Las Vegas when Elton super fan Kaye gets to spend the evening with his music hero. Quays Life chatted to Martin to find out more:
Q: Where did you get the idea for the show from?
Martin: “Well, I’m a massive Elton John fan, he’s the reason I play the piano and have done since I was a wee lad growing up in Manchester, so his music has always had a through line in my life. I was living and working in Las Vegas in ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ at Harrahs, and Elton John was also performing across the street at Caesars Palace, and I always wondered what it would be like if I ran into him, so… when I saw that Katy Lipson (one of my long time Mancunian friends) was creating so much incredible theatre in the UK, I told her I would love to work together on some kind of Elton show. She put me in touch with her script writer Chris Burgess, and the rest is history!”
Q; Can you tell us a bit more about the show and how it’s developed?
Martin: “Well, we firstly had to figure out how to tell a story without doing any kind of Elton John impersonation – I’m not a fan of those kinds of things, and I don’t sound or look anything like him anyway! (So anyone hoping for an Elton impersonator will be disappointed!) We wanted to just tell the story as earnestly as possible, and we thought – what better way than to tell it than through the music of Elton John and Bernie Taupin themselves. So that’s what we did! It’s got the ups and downs, musically and narratively speaking, weaving through the story of my and Elton’s life. I’m at the front on the piano, singing and playing my little heart away, backed by the most incredible three-piece band, and we play all the hits, as well as some really great deep cuts and B-sides which, if you know Elton’s music well, you may know, but if you don’t, it’s an opportunity to hear some new music, which just happen to be really great brilliantly-written songs by one of the world’s most beloved writing partnerships.”
Q: Why do you think Elton John’s songs are so well-loved and still as popular now as when he first recorded them?
Martin: “In terms of Elton himself, I think that, at the time, he was just so incredible to watch. He was nothing like anyone had ever seen since the likes of Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard – it was even a step beyond that – so people latched on to that. But it wasn’t just the performance. Match that high-octane performance with amazing songs. Life-changing songs. Songs that people could sing along to. It’s just one of those magical collaborations, isn’t it?! The Lennon/McCartney of the 70s and beyond. And the music was so diverse, so broad. It stretched from country to rock to pop to jazz to orchestral, even to musical theatre. It covered so many genres that there was something for everyone. And those early albums – gosh, those songs were just so good. Beautiful and original melodies, but somehow familiar. And at the very root of it, Elton just knows how to write an amazing chord progression. It’s so simple, yet it’s also not! And it always works. It just… works.”
Q: Which is your favourite Elton John song and why? Is this also your favourite one to perform?
Martin: “As you discover early on in the show, ‘Your Song’ was the reason I fell in love with music, so it’s easily my favourite song because of its importance to my life. And yes, it’s definitely one of my favourites to perform. There are others, sure, because I also love the high energy stuff – Saturday Night’s Alright is a belter!”
Q; What was performing in Las Vegas like?
Martin: “I can’t even put it into words. It was a dream come true. It was everything I imagined it to be, and so, so much more. As soon as Million Dollar Quartet arrived, we became celebrities there – it was so strange, and as I mentioned earlier, the local Vegas community is so tight and really gets behind its artists, it’s so unbelievably supportive. It’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. So while I was there, I worked on other projects, I performed at charity shows and other events, I made friends for life – and I got to go to work on the strip! As an entertainer, living and working in the entertainment capital of the world – yep, that’ll do!”
Q: Are you looking forward to bringing the show to the Bowdon Rooms? What can audiences expect?
Martin: “I can’t wait! To be able to bring any show to my hometown of Manchester is special, and to be able to perform a show that’s so close to my heart – it doesn’t get much better than that really! I don’t want the audiences to expect anything, except a really fun night of incredible music, performed by a really tight band, with a wild story told by a local bald bloke.”
Elton John: It’s a Little Bit Funny stars Martin Kaye and his band, directed by Ben Stock, written by Chris Burgess, musical arrangements by Andy Collyer, production design by Ben M. Rogers, produced by Katy Lipson for Aria Entertainment.
Elton John: It’s a Little Bit Funny runs at the Bowdon Rooms, Altrincham from 19-24 July 2021. Visit www.thebowdonrooms.co.uk for more information and tickets.