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JLife Meets: Martin Kaye, Mancunian Performer

Black and white photograph of Manchester-born performer Martin Kaye reading music at his keyboard

Elaine Bermitz speaks to performer Martin Kaye who returns to the Manchester stage this April.

Singer, pianist and songwriter Martin Kaye grew up in South Manchester and, though he was a pupil at Manchester Grammar School and could have had an academic future, he nursed a passion for music and performance which would shape his destiny.

At three years old his grandmother noticed his singing ability, booking his first piano lessons at six, which led to him joining Stage 80 at 11 and later composing songs in his teens. Starting a degree in French and Spanish, he realised that he needed to follow his dream. He already had a fondness for playing at weddings and Bar/Bat Mitzvahs coupled with a genuine delight in working out how to play songs.

He got his first break on a family cruise where the resident piano bar pianist allowed him to entertain his guests while he took a little break, and at the end of the cruise, was encouraged to apply for the same job himself, aged 21. He spent four years on cruise ships as the piano bar entertainer and loved every minute of it: “But then I’ve always had a belief that if you truly focus on what you really want to do and work hard enough, success will come to you in time,” he says.

Success has certainly come to Martin, who is only 35 now but has earned several awards for both music and performance, though the story of how he won the part of Jerry Lee Lewis in the musical Million Dollar Quartet was the result of both talent, hard work and a little luck: “I had already decided that I was going to leave the cruise ships, as I had learned as much as I could from the experience, when, two weeks from the end of my final cruise, I was approached by a retired record company executive, and encouraged to audition in New York for the part of Jerry Lee Lewis in a new show.

“When I was called back for a second audition, I had already booked my flight home. I didn’t know what to do, so I rang my grandma. I won’t tell you exactly the words she used, but safe to say, I changed my flight, did the second audition, got the part and stayed for the next six years.”

The show went coast to coast finishing up in Las Vegas. For Martin, Vegas became a home, the community of performers there encouraged his performing and writing skills, and he earned fantastic reviews. With a Vegas Seven Magazine Best Actor gong and a Helen Hayes Award nomination to his name, as well as five albums of his own compositions, he has not neglected his creative side. However, the idea of taking Million Dollar Quartet to the UK meant enough to tear him away and return to the UK again, where he met up with old friend Katy Lipson of Aria Entertainment, a fellow Mancunian, who has produced many shows, and with whom he shared his ambition to write and perform a show based around the songs of his teenage pop idol Elton John.

So how did Katy react to his ideas? Well! She is certainly very excited to be working with him. She told me: “I’ve known Martin for many years back in Manchester where we both grew up. Even back then you could tell he was a talent and although I chose to take a more backstage role, Martin has continued to shine on stages around the world.

“When re-connecting last year, he mentioned what a fan he was of Elton John and that is where this story began! Having had success with shows such as That’s Jewish Entertainment, Bette Midler & Me, The Jewish Legends and The MGM Story, I knew the perfect team to put this show together.”

The show premiered in London at The Gatehouse in February, but both Katy and Martin are very excited that Hope Mill Theatre will be hosting it for a  week in April: “I always had big dreams,” says Martin, “and I haven’t stopped writing. I’m doing exactly what I feel I was born to do, and, while I might not get to be as big a star as Elton John, I’m so excited for where my music will take me next.”

And if you are an Elton John fan, you could do a lot worse than going along to see the story of Martin Kaye’s encounter with his idol.

Elton John: It’s a Little Bit Funny is on at Hope Mill Theatre from 21st – 26th April. Visit Hopemilltheatre.co.uk for tickets.

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