Elton John: It’s A Little Bit Funny
Upstairs at The Gatehouse
Reviewed – 20th February 2020
“It’s poignant, entertaining, exciting and, often, ‘it’s a little bit funny’”
For the best part of fifteen years Elton John had made Vegas his second home until he gave it a memorable farewell last September with a spectacular and emotional three-hour retrospective gig. It’s part of his ongoing ‘Farewell Yellow Brick Road’, booking until next year, after which he will retire. Or so he says, Frank Sinatra’s farewell tour lasted twenty years. Leaving Las Vegas must have been a wrench. His ‘Red Piano’ residency ran for five years and the later ‘The Million Dollar Piano’ for seven years.
Imagine you are a devoted fan of Elton’s, growing up with his songs and learning to play the piano by listening over and over to the music. He is the reason you chose your perilous career as a musical performer. You’re doing okay at it. In fact, more than okay. You’ve got theatre, television and concert, recording and writing credits to your name, and you’ve now landed a job in a touring musical which, on its North American Tour, takes in some dates in Vegas right next door to Caesars Palace where Elton is playing. On a rare night off you’re hanging out late one night, doodling away at a piano in a hotel foyer, when Elton John walks in and joins in, starts chatting, buys you a cocktail, takes you gambling …
This is not imagination, but fact, for Martin Kaye, pianist, singer, songwriter and all-round showman. Well – almost. It is the whole truth – except the last bit might be made up. But it was a real possibility. Martin and Elton’s paths could so easily have crossed. And if they had… well, that is the show: “Elton John – It’s A Little Bit Funny”. It tells the tale of that night in Vegas. A night of confessions, anecdotes, jokes and songs.
Anybody expecting a ‘tribute act’ or Elton impersonator will be disappointed. Everybody else will be blown away by the musicianship of Kaye and his totally relaxed stage presence. A soft and cheeky Mancunian accent – the perfect voice for the self-deprecating one liners that trip off the tongue. Written by Chris Burgess this definitely has the feel of a collaborative labour of love. Over thirty of Elton John’s songs make up the set list. Many are extracts from which Kaye breaks away to pick up the thread of the story. It is a three-way conversation between him, the audience and Elton.
We don’t learn much more about Elton John’s colourful life than we already know, but the key facts are given a personal touch which are further emphasised in the music with their autobiographical context. Many of the old favourites are there; “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”, “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me”, Candle In The Wind”, “Rocket Man”, “Tonight” and the poignant “Someone Saved My Life Tonight; but also some lesser known ones such as “Skyline Pigeon”, “Bitter Fingers” or “Feed Me” which give a deeper insight into the man.
Backed by a tight three-piece band, with Morgan Rickman on guitar, Johnny Wells on bass and David Talisman on drums, Kaye pounds and caresses his piano. He is a truly talented pianist who has both the technique and expression to make the instrument an extension of his own personality. Some of the songs are direct replicas of the original, but many are reinterpreted. His jazz-inflected re-phrasing of “Bennie And The Jets” is a stunning opening to the show.
It closes with “Your Song” from which the show’s title gets its name. It is a song which, over the years, has become a faded wallpaper to the music world. But, like much of Elton’s repertoire, Kaye strips it down and re-pastes it with a fresh sheen. This is far from an Elton John gig. This is a Martin Kaye gig. You certainly don’t need to be a fan of Elton to appreciate this show. It’s poignant, entertaining, exciting and, often, ‘it’s a little bit funny’.
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
Photography by Ben Hewis
Elton John: It’s A Little Bit Funny
Upstairs at The Gatehouse until 1st March
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue: