Photos by Joan Marc us
Playing Jerry Lee Lewis is British
musician Martin Kaye, who was raised
in a traditional Jewish home.
Top: Martin Kaye as Jerry Lee Lewis, Lee Ferris as Carl
Perkins, Chuck Zayas as Carl's brother Jay Perkins,
Cody Slaughter as Elvis Presley and Derek Keeling as
Johnny Cash in Million Dollar Quartet,
running at the Fisher Theatre Jan. 24-Feb. 5.
Bottom: Christopher Ryan Grant portrays Sam Phillips,
the Sun Records producer who launched the careers of
Presley, Lewis, Perkins and Cash and brought the quartet
together to record for one time only on Dec. 4,1956.
Based on a true story, Million Dollar Quartet brings
together Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins
and Elvis Presley for a legendary recording session.
hen Martin Kaye takes on the Southern drawl
of country rocker Jerry Lee Lewis, it's hard to
imagine that his everyday talk has a distinc-
tive British accent.
The drawl only briefly interrupts — on request — the
proper-sounding British intonation that Kaye uses during a
phone interview to describe his role in Million Dollar Quartet.
About a 1956 Memphis jam session, the jukebox musical
recalls the songs and storied careers of Lewis, Elvis Presley,
Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins.
The production, directed by Eric Schaeffer and featuring a
book by Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux, runs Jan. 24-Feb. 5
at the Fisher Theatre and goes beyond its famous songs with
the help of a narrator portraying Sam Phillips, the record
producer who discovered each star.
"I love the energy of this show',' says Kaye, 27, on the road
with his first American tour."The vibe we all have is kind of
magical as we depict an event that actually happened"
To deepen the production, license is taken with the story-
line. What enters into the drama did not necessarily happen
during the studio session that is spotlighted.
"The story wraps around the music:" Kaye explains. "We all
play our own instruments, and ifs cool to be able to do that:'
Also appearing in Million Dollar Quartet is Cody Slaughter
as Presley, Derek Keeling as Cash and Lee Ferris as Perkins.
Christopher Ryan Grant takes the role of Phillips. Also fea-
tured are Kelly Lamont as Elvis' fictional girlfriend Dyanne
and musicians Billy Shaffer (Fluke, drums) and Chuck Zayas
(Jay Perkins, bass).
"At the time this musical takes place, Jerry Lee Lewis
wasn't famous," Kaye explains. "He was about 20 years old
and was just hired to play for Carl Perkins. Johnny Cash and
Elvis Presley happened to be in town, and they stopped by.
"It turned into a jam session, and the engineer left on the
tapes and recorded the whole thing. Later on, they became
known as The Million Dollar Quartet.
"The show only touches on Lewis' relationships with
women. He had been married twice at this point in his life
although he went on to wed six different women in all. He's
the comedic aspect of the show and riles people up:'
Kaye, at the keyboard sitting and standing, sings "Whole
Lot of Shaltiri Going On',' "Great Balls of Fire" and "Real Wild
Child." He believes the last describes him.
"I'm a bit of a rebel and try to go the opposite way to
everyone else,' he says. "I wear mismatched socks to rebel
against the traditional way of wearing socks. I've always been
a little wild when I've played or performed:
Kaye, whose dad played boogie-woogie piano as a hobby
and whose grandmother was involved with community
entertainment, started taking singing lessons when he was 3
and piano lessons when he was 7.
"I began doing community theater when I was 10 because
my parents figured out that was what I was born to do','
Kaye says."I got involved in shows at school and at Leeds
University, where I was studying French and Spanish.
"I joined a band at university, and we turned it into a
wedding band for about five years. I think we only did one
wedding that wasn't Jewish, and we did hundreds and hun-
dreds of them.
"I actually quit college after a year because I realized I
wanted to pursue music and not do anything academically"
After moving to London when he was 22, Kaye started
working with a manager and producer and released his
first recording, About You, which is available on iTunes.
Continuing to write music, he found work playing piano bars
on cruise ships and moved to the United States after meeting
his fiancée, Holly Fonda (not a film Fonda), on board.
"I heard about the audition for Million Dollar Quartet and
got a manager and an agent": he explains. "They got me the
audition in New York
"I grew up not listening to rock roll music. I was more
exposed to jazz, which actually is rooted in a lot of the music
of today. Knowing and loving jazz enabled me to connect
with the show music very easily"
Kaye, working on a second recording that is more eclectic
than the funky jazz of his first, was raised in a traditional
Jewish home and was a bar mitzvah. He's been to Israel a few
times and was involved with the Federation of Zionist Youth.
Although he loves to play English football (soccer), he
recently sang the U.S. national anthem at the Outback Bowl
"It's become routine for me to perform before 2,000 or
3,000 people," he says. "In Tampa, I sang with three guys in
front of 65,000 people, and it didn't phase me. I thought of all
the people as just a big crowd:' P1
Million Dollar Quartet runs Jan. 24-Feb. 5 at the
Fisher Theatre in Detroit. Performances are 8 p.m.
Tuesday-Saturday, 7:30 p.m. Sunday and 2 p.m.
Saturday-Sunday. $29-$79. (313) 872-1000;
January 19 • 2012