Elvis Presley. Jerry Lee Lewis. Johnny Cash. Carl Perkins. And the once-in-a-lifetime jam session that brought them all together. Million Dollar Quartet made its Minnesota debut on Tuesday night at the State Theatre telling the electrifying true story of four rock ‘n’ roll icons and the recording session at Sun Records in Memphis that brought them all together for the first and only time. Million Dollar Quartet piano man Martin Kaye – playing the wild Jerry Lee Lewis – sat down with us for an exclusive interview about playing this legendary rocker.
Martin Kaye as Jerry Lee Lewis in The National Tour of Million Dollar Quartet (Photo by Joan Marcus)
Q. Tell us about Million Dollar Quartet and your character in the show.
The story of the show is the December 4, 1956 Carl Perkins recording session and Sam Phillips – who owned the studio and found these four guys- hired this unknown piano player (Jerry Lee Lewis) to come and play in the session. Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley were in town, so they stopped by and it turned into this impromptu jam session. We are re-enacting that night. It’s just a big, fat, rock ‘n’ roll fest. And it’s amazing- lots of fun.
Me personally, I play Jerry Lee Lewis and it’s a blast especially since he’s the only one who’s still alive. He’s known for being completely wild and ridiculous on stage. I am, in my own performing of other things, kind of like that.
Q. So you’re British, what’s it like playing an American music icon? Did you grow up listening to Jerry Lee?
No, I didn’t. I grew up listening to Elton John, Frank Sinatra and Michael Jackson so I wasn’t really surrounded by this kind of music. I did obviously hear it because my dad played the piano and so I did hear boogie-woogie type music like that. I knew what it was, but I didn’t really know much about it. I didn’t really know much about Johnny Cash either. I see now that he is one of the most popular musicians of all time in this country. It’s been an amazing education for me and an experience to learn the music and the culture behind the music which is so wild.
Q. What drew you to the role of Jerry Lee?
I’ve always played the piano. I’ve always sang. It’s a given. This part was made for me as the person that I am on stage and the performer and musician that I am. It’s kind of ridiculous that it came up and was available for me to audition for… and to get the part was crazy. I couldn’t believe it because being British and there were all these other American players from the south- I can’t believe they actually decided to go with me. I’m very blessed.
Q. What did you do to prepare for the role, besides dialect coaching?
Actually I wasn’t too far off to start with, but I had a little bit of dialect training with Colin (the writer). To be honest, being around him (pointing to Cody Slaughter, who plays Elvis) and people who are from the south really helped. Um…and also Youtube! A lot of Youtube videos of Jerry Lee. Listening to him as well as some interviews of him on Youtube. Youtube is a godsend. I couldn’t have done this without it. And reading his biography.
Martin Kay (left) with fellow Million Dollar Quartet cast member Scott Moreau at the State Theatre.
Q. What are the challenges of -not only playing Jerry Lee- but of portraying a real person instead of just a character?
That’s the tricky thing because people have this expectation. They know who he is on stage performing, but they don’t necessarily know who he is or who any of these guys are in this intimate setting, this social setting. So that’s kind of cool because we have some liberty to joke around, goof around and we do get into each other’s faces a bit- which did not necessarily happen, but could have happened. People get to see that ‘fly on the wall’ situation.
Yes there is some pressure, but you’re also not trying to imitate. You’re trying to capture the essence of these people and that’s something that I think we’ve really succeeded at. A lot of people come away from the show saying that we aren’t imitators and that’s really cool. It’s important because you can try to be an imitator and really, really fail, but we’re not trying in the first place.
Q. Is there a moment or a song where you rock the hardest in the show?
TOTALLY the end. The last song- “Shakin’.” I guess it’s the point where I start soloing and the whole second half of that song is just awesome. My brain switches off and my hands take over.
Q. If you could portray any music icon – British, American, anyone – who would you portray?
Elton John. The thing is, though, I don’t sound or look like him (as you cannot tell from this blog). I’ve grown up with his music so it would be an honor to play him. Actually, ideally, instead of playing him I’d rather play with him on stage. That would be awesome. That’s a target of mine before I die or before he dies.
Wanna lace up your blue suede shoes, Minneapolis?
This jukebox musical will have a whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on through Sunday, April 1st, but tickets are still available for every performance. Visit our site.
Student Rush Policy for Million Dollar Quartet: Rush tickets are $20 cash only, limit 2 tickets per valid student/educator school ID and will go on-sale two hours prior to each performance. Subject to availability. The re-sale of rush tickets is strictly prohibited.
WHAT THE CRITICS ARE SAYING:
Review: ‘Quartet’ cast makes show worth a million bucks – Star Tribune
Review: ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ has substance, story and raucous rock ‘n’ roll – Pioneer Press
Watch: WCCO Interview with Martin Kaye
View: Photos from the Opening Night Party and the Sneak Peek Performance at Mall of America.