Elaine Paige is indeed our First Lady. One of the true legends of musical theatre, she introduced the world to no less than three of the genre's most powerful female characters, Eva Peron in EVITA, Grizabella in CATS and Florence in CHESS - a musical created especially for her by Tim Rice and ABBA's Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus.
With successful international tours and more than 20 solo albums released through-out her career, Paige has also become an artist of immense cross-over appeal. She had a top 10 hit in the UK with Memory from CATS before her recording of I Know Him So Well with Barbara Dickson went to Number 1 on the charts. This song from the CHESS concept album made history as the UK's most successful female duo recording, and in 2011 was listed at number 7 of the top 10 biggest selling duets of all time.
In 1996 Paige made her long-awaited Broadway debut as Norma Desmond in SUNSET BOULEVARD. She went on to perform stateside in the New York City Opera production of Sondheim's SWEENEY TODD and as Carlotta in the 2011 Kennedy Centre production of FOLLIES in Washington DC, a role she reprised on Broadway and in Los Angeles to critical acclaim.
A genuine superstar of musical theatre, Elaine Paige is much loved on both sides of the Atlantic and here across the Pacific. As she prepares for a concert tour of Australia and New Zealand later this month, she took time out to share a little of her (legendary!) brain on musical theatre.
This Is Your Brain On Musical Theatre - 10 questions with Elaine Paige
Is there a particular show and/or person that first made you feel like ‘this is what I want to do’?
There was always music in our house – my father was a drummer and loved jazz and my mother loved vocalists such as Ella Fitzgerald and Perry Como. It was my music teacher at school who first noticed my singing voice and she, along with both of my parents, encouraged me to explore further. So I went to the Aida Foster School to learn singing and acting, but it was West Side Story that made me want to do musicals. I just loved that show.
Can you remember the moment when you first understood that you could sing the way most others can’t?
I think it must have been when my school staged The Boy Mozart, an operetta based on the composer’s life and work. I sang the mezzo role, Bastienne, from the opera Bastien and Bastienne, the first of many emotional songs that have shaped my career. When I sobbed at the end of the aria the audience gasped! It was after this my father asked if I’d like to go to drama school.
Is there one night particular in your career that you would love to go back to and experience over again?
One would be the first night of Evita – like most first nights the nerves kick in so much the whole experience is quite terrifying so you never really enjoy the moment until it is all over. So it would be good to go back, and experience it knowing what I know now. The other would be the first time I finally got to perform on Broadway. It was as Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard. I was nervous, but shouldn’t have worried. The effusive New York audience welcomed me with an embarrassingly generous ovation. And on that night my memorable first line “Why are you so late?” had special meaning. That night was a thrill.
You have played so many of the great female roles. Is there one role that belongs to the opposite gender or perhaps a different age group that you’d secretly love to perform?
I always wanted to play Juliet in Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet but never got the chance. And when I was Mrs Lovett in Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd I often thought what it would be like to play Sweeney. It’s such a great role and Mark Delavan who played opposite me had the most incredibly strong, loud voice for this dark and foreboding role. Amazing.