As we prepare for our first ever Songbook Series, celebrating the music of Elton John, we had a chance to speak with a long-time friend of TPM, Kate Hennig, about her experiences with Sir Elton as the most recent lead in the hit musical Billy Elliot. Check out the Songbook Series next Thursday (October 13) on the TPM Cab Stage, starting at 10pm. PWYC Admission.
1. You spent two years singing the songs of Elton John in Billy Elliot. Did you ever get sick of his musical style?
I wouldn’t say that the songs in BE are his “musical style”. Not when you think of his pop music. I think he really attempted, as a composer, to find the style of the characters and the story, and express that in song. So the anthemic style of the miners’ songs were very different than the theatrical style of Mrs. Wilkinson’s songs, say, or the passionate personal expression of Billy’s songs.
2. I understand that you had the opportunity to meet Sir Elton during the rehearsal process.
Not during rehearsal actually, but on opening night here in Toronto… In this strange pink tent that they had him sequestered in at the party. Pretty funny. I have a great picture of him with his arm around me, looking like we’re old buds! I LOVE IT!!!
3. What was that moment like?
Like holy crap!!! When I was a kid in the 70s I was the BIGGEST Elton John fan going! He’s a good part of why I started singing and performing. I wanted to be a rock star! Now I just act like a rock star.
4. How did he approach you as the voice of his music?
He didn’t. Mostly we talked about how the language of the play had been softened (they took out a lot of the f-words, especially when they were spoken by the kids), and what impact that might have on selling tickets in North America. I said I didn’t think it would matter to Toronto audiences. He said he had changed his ideas about harsh language, being a man in his sixties with a potty-mouth, since having his son. He felt he needed to grow up a bit in that respect.
5. Why do you think the songs of Elton John remain a timeless staple?
The early stuff? Amazing melodies, seriously poetic lyrics, and quality musicians on the recordings. And the clarity of that young voice! Also a certain unabashed naivete.
6. What is it about him that captures the public audience?
His audacious personality. Then. And now.
7. What’s your favourite Elton John song and why?
I love Social Disease because of its irreverence and its groove. But I still sit down at the piano and play Don’t Let the Sun Go Down because of its impact on my own musical journey. Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters is right up there… Sixty Years On, Skyline Pigeon… his live versions of Honky Tonk Woman and Bad Side of the Moon on the album 11/17/70 are mind-blowing… oh, don’t get me started.
8. Tell us a bit about your past connections with Theatre Passe Muraille.
I’ve never worked at Passe Muraille. Weird, eh? I don’t work much in Toronto! I know that sounds crazy, but its true. I’ve never worked at the Factory, or the Tarragon. Why is that?! Please… someone hire me!! My real connection to Passe Muraille is my association with Andy McKim as the dramaturge and midwife for my writing. He’s an amazing supporter, and an equally amazing leader. In fact, he is the most AWESOME guy!! Next to Elton John, of course.
If you’re a facebook-er, here’s the event: https://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=179078142169795