BWW Interviews: Martin Kaye of MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET in Vegas Chats Life in Vegas
MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET has been playing to sold-out audiences all over the world including its current run at Harrah's Las Vegas. MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET tells the story of one night in December where legendary singers Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash got together at Sun Studios in Memphis, Tennessee. Martin Kaye has had the privilege of playing Jerry Lee Lewis on tour and currently in Las Vegas. I had the chance to interview Martin back in November of 2013. Recently visiting Las Vegas, I had an opportunity catch up with Martin to chat about life in Vegas and how he is adjusting to not being on tour anymore.
So catch us up a little on what has been happening in the last 18 months.
I was coming up to the end of the tour and knowing that I was coming to Vegas. That's so weird to think about that because we've been here now a year and four months and it's absolutely flown by. I was talking to Rob Lyons about that I can't believe we've been here for that long. It's just been a flash. It's been a whirlwind really.
What was the transition like for you?
That is the reason why me and my wife wanted to get off the road because we just got married. We were really wanting to find somewhere to settle because hotels, hotels, hotels, hotels. Even after a year and a half of doing that regardless of whether you just got married; that's tough anyway. Having just got married, we really wanted to have our own kitchen, have our own bedroom, have our own life and we didn't really have that. It was a very easy transition. Very smooth. Vegas is very welcoming. Everyone is so nice. Everyone in the show has been very welcoming. When I first started the tour, I had no connection with the show whatsoever. I was a new guy and it was unchartered territory. You didn't know how people were going to take you and you didn't know what people were going to think of your musical ability and you didn't know how you fared in terms of other people's ability and how you compared to that. So, going into the tour was a challenge but coming from the tour to Vegas, only Rob and I were the only ones who had done the show before. We were kinda the old boys. It was nice to have that then you don't have to go through that. Are people gonna like me? Are people gonna wonder if I'm any good. You don't have to worry about that because you've been doing the show. And people know you've been doing the show. You can put that aside and just go on with the work.
Was it everything you expected?
No. Just the fact that there's mountains and there's really nice suburbia. Really quiet, very clean. People are really nice. There's a whole life here that has nothing to do with the strip. It's so nice to realize that. My wife wasn't sure how she was going to like it here. She's set up a business here and is really involved in the community and I'm doing other things in the music community other than the show and the music community here is amazing. It's very small and it's very tight and it's very welcoming and supportive. That's been an amazing thing for me. It's just something I didn't know about. The art district like downtown is up and coming and that's really cool. There's so many things to Vegas that people don't know about if you only come here for a few days a year. You're not going to know about all those other things. It's been very surprising and wonderful. And the weather obviously is amazing.
Let's talk about MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET. How did you prepare to play the role of Jerry Lee Lewis? What kind of research did you do to prepare?
A lot of the other guys may have grown up with the music or were influenced very heavily by the artists that they play. I wasn't really didn't know much. I only knew "Great Balls of Fire." I was exposed to "Boogie Woogie Piano" by my dad who played that. But, other than that, there wasn't much I knew about him. The internet was a godsend; YouTube, reading his biography, all that kind of stuff. Our musical director, Chuck Mead, when we first started rehearsals for the tour, you could see straight away he's a rockabilly kind of guy. That's his thing. He knows so much. He's a musician himself...he's toured, he's still touring. He so exposed and knows so much about rockabilly and rock and roll and 50's 60's music. And I've learned so much from him. Not just Jerry Lee Lewis, but the rockabilly world and what it's about. Especially being from England. There is a rockabilly scene over there but it's not like it is here. It's crazy here and I didn't know anything about it. But, all of that together helped me to prepare.
How has your portrayal of him changed over the course of time that you have been playing the role?
It definitely has changed. When I first started, I'd never had any professional acting experience. I'd done acting when I was younger in shows but I never had any professional experience. I was like a sponge when I started the tour. I was learning from as many people as I could trying to pick up tips. I would go to people and say, "What do you think of my performance? Is there anything I can be doing?" And it's actually an unwritten rule in the theater world that actors don't give each other notes but I don't come from that world. I was going to other people and saying help me. Help me get better. So I got some tips. I think I started out very cartoonish and very over the top. Not saying what I do now isn't over the top but it's a different way. I think it's a more real over the top. Jerry Lee Lewis was over the top; is over the top. So, it definitely has changed. And also, I'm trying new things. If it's a new piano lick, a new way of saying something. I'm always trying to keep it fresh.
And you won an award for best actor in Vegas.
I did. Rebecca texted me and said you won best actor in Vegas7. It's a wonderful honor and I'm grateful to be recognized especially when I'm in a town of top world class performers. To be even put on this list is ridiculous. But, it's very nice.
Talk about your interactions with other actors on this tour.
It's very different than it was on tour. On tour, we're travelling together. We're always with each other so it's very much a family feeling in that way. You sleep together, you drink together, you eat together. You live together, you work together. Here, it's very different because everyone goes home to their families on your own. You see the people you work with and then you go home. It's not like it was on the tour. It's a different kind of family. It's wonderful. It's equally as good, it's just different. Everyone is nice and supporting. I think there's very much a difference in our shows and is missing in other shows because it's musicians rather than just actors. You have acting and dancing and all stuff. There's obviously going to be drama. With us there isn't drama because we're musicians. We just wanna play music and chill and get along. I wouldn't say that there's one person I get along with any more than anyone else. You have to find your people that you connect with the most. Everyone is great.
Have you had any mishaps onstage playing Jerry Lee?
I remember on opening night previews on the tour when we were in Cleveland. There's a part where Sam Phillips comes over to the piano and pours drinks and there's always spillage. I didn't know that I should wipe down the piano. No one told me that. It was something I didn't think about. But then I have to get on top of the piano at the end of the show and I jump off. I learned very quickly that I should wipe down the piano because that liquid gets on the bottom of my shoes and when I jump off and land, that liquid's not going to keep me standing. And it didn't. And I ended up on my butt. A couple of times and that was not fun. It didn't hurt but it was completely embarrassing especially when it's in front of 2,000 people. The part where I throw up the microphone, I dropped it nearly hit an audience member. (Sarcastically speaking) Nothing major other than killing an audience member and myself.
How do you prepare to go onstage every night? Do you have any rituals or routines?
Yeah. On the tour everyone had their own (when we were all on the stage ready to start the show) individual ritual with another cast member like a handshake or something that they would do. I came over to Vegas and I continued that. I create different rituals with each cast member. No one else does it so it's just me. When I come up to places, I go around to each cast member and have a moment, whether it's stupid. Like with the drummer, I'll hold his ears and he holds my nose. I do a cool handshake with Sam Phillips. It's just silly things but it would feel very, very strange to start the show without doing that.
Tell us more about your own music and your future plans for that.
Since I've been in Vegas, I released my second album and I also did a premiere of my own show at a downtown theater back in September. I'm working on my own thing trying to get my music out there because there's so much competition for tourists that come in for 2.4 days. How do you grab a tourist and say, "This is the show that you need to come see." There's a lot of that. I'm trying to tweak the show and make it the best that it can be so that people can choose me as someone they want to attend. That's my goal right now. My touring goals and my ultimate goals are to be travelling around playing music. My ultimate goal. But this is a step.
How long will you stay in MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET?
I can't see me wanting to leave for a long time. I really love it here and like I said the music scene is very supportive. The show is getting better and doing well and hopefully it's gaining more popularity and sustenance. As long as the show is here, I will be here.
It's fresh and new to you still. You still enjoy doing it.
I'm doing what I love to do on a main stage in Las Vegas. That on the surface level, I have to sit back and remember that. It's not me, I'm playing a character. It's not me. It's not a character I want to be playing for the rest of my life but, I'm playing the piano, I'm singing, I'm onstage, in spotlights, in front of an audience singing onstage...in Vegas. I can't be more grateful for that. That's the dream for someone like me to be in Vegas is fantastic. I try to keep it fresh every night. The audience is different every night. I create different relationships and different things happen onstage every night. I try to keep it that way. As long as that's the case, it's always going to feel new and fresh. The minute I start to feel that it's getting a bit stale...there are times when I am sitting on my couch in my apartment before I have to go to work and I'm like, "I don't want to go to work." Then I get in the car and your drive to work, you're there, you're onstage, everything's amazing. It's not a big deal. It's a very, very small price to pay to be able to do something that I absolutely love doing. I get to do what I love and it's only 3 hours a night.
For tickets to see MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET go to www.mdqvegas.com
PHOTO CREDIT: Erik Kabik