DIVA TALK: An Interview with Elaine Paige, Part I

DIVA TALK: An Interview with Elaine Paige, Part I Hello, diva lovers! This week, I’m happy to present the first half of an interview I had last Friday, June 16, with my favorite Brit, The First Lady of the British Musical Theatre, Elaine Paige. Paige, as you know, shot to fame when she was cast in the London production of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Evita just over two decades ago. She followed that award-winning run with lead roles in Cats, Chess, Anything Goes, Piaf and, most recently, Sunset Boulevard, portraying silent screen star Norma Desmond, a role she would repeat to great acclaim on Broadway. Paige is currently starring at the London Palladium as Anna Leonowens opposite the King of Jason Scott Lee in the West End production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I. I spoke with the always-charming Paige just prior to her Friday evening performance. (By the way, if you’re lucky enough to get to London during Paige’s run, tickets are available by calling the box office at 020-7494-5020.)

Hello, diva lovers! This week, I’m happy to present the first half of an interview I had last Friday, June 16, with my favorite Brit, The First Lady of the British Musical Theatre, Elaine Paige. Paige, as you know, shot to fame when she was cast in the London production of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Evita just over two decades ago. She followed that award-winning run with lead roles in Cats, Chess, Anything Goes, Piaf and, most recently, Sunset Boulevard, portraying silent screen star Norma Desmond, a role she would repeat to great acclaim on Broadway. Paige is currently starring at the London Palladium as Anna Leonowens opposite the King of Jason Scott Lee in the West End production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I. I spoke with the always-charming Paige just prior to her Friday evening performance. (By the way, if you’re lucky enough to get to London during Paige’s run, tickets are available by calling the box office at 020-7494-5020.)

Playbill On-Line: How’s The King and I going so far?
Elaine Paige: Fantastic, absolutely fantastic. It’s sold out every night, absolutely packed houses, and they’re lapping it up I would say! They love it!

PBOL: Do you find it as much physical effort as Sunset Boulevard was?
EP: No, no. I think it is positively, probably in many respects, you know, you cannot compare it to Sunset Boulevard or Piaf or any of those roles, or even Evita really, because it’s just not angst ridden. It’s not emotionally based in the same way as those roles were and are written. That’s how they’re written, and that’s the plight of the characters in those plays. But [Anna’s] very Victorian; she’s very restrained, and it’s all very within, it’s withheld.

PBOL: Do you find it a little easier . . .
EP: I find it very difficult, in fact, because of that. Well, not very difficult, but it’s just odd for me to play such a restrained woman . . . because it’s a period piece, it’s Victorian, and one plays it with all those thoughts in mind. Life was so very different then for everybody, but particularly for women because they didn’t have the kinds of freedom. [They] did not air their views in the same way that we do today that we take for granted. So Anna is very refined and cerebral, I suppose, and very courageous . . . I love that about her and the passion she had for education, which I believe she truly did have. She was very much, I suppose, a woman of principles. Though, she was rather unconventional . . . That’s the other thing about her that is fun to play because it does appear in odd places through the play. She’s very independent. So, I’m enjoying that aspect of her. But it’s interesting to have to play someone so withheld and restrained. Because most of these other characters I’ve played, especially of late, Piaf and Norma, are so much more grand and larger than life. And this is very realistic and very Victorian. So that aspect was difficult for me initially -- to find who she was -- because I kept feeling I wasn’t doing anything. I kept feeling that I was just sort of underplaying everything and thinking I ought to be doing more. But, of course, I think, I hope, that now I have settled and found the right balance.

PBOL: Did you do much research into the life of the real Anna?
EP: Yes, well I did. Over Christmas time here in England, the release of the Jodie Foster film came out, so there was a lot of stuff in the press about the research that she’d done, and so I read up on that, and then that inspired me to find out about it on my own terms, for myself, which I did. She actually says in the play, ‘I am from a civilized land called Wales.’ And that, of course, is apparently -- now we know - not true. It seems to me that this woman embellished her life story, I suppose. Again, I can understand why she would have done it. A woman on her own in that period was very, very difficult, especially when you’re living in a foreign country, so many miles away from your own country. And I think she would have embellished her own life possibly to elevate her position and to put herself in a position to be able to meet and circulate with, you know, a better class of person, I suppose, to try and improve her own position. So, yes, I did do quite a lot of research. I read her diary, and I’m looking at another book that someone had written about her after her time in Siam, when she lived in Canada. So that’s all been fascinating because not only do you get her own accounts of what’s going on in her own life but also the country itself and the customs and the political situation, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera [laughs], which I say a lot these days. PBOL: Did you get to see the Jodie Foster film? What did you think of it?
EP: I did. I did. Well, I missed the music for starters. I really did miss the music. It’s amazing how embedded in people of my generation’s brain that score is, because we grew up with this musical, I suppose. I would have been quite young, of course, when it would have been first out there in the marketplace. But it’s one that I do remember, you know, a lot. That was the interesting thing in rehearsals. I didn’t have all this terror of trying to learn all the lyrics over and over again because I kind of knew half of them anyway.

PBOL: And you also sing “I Have Dreamed” in concerts.
EP: Yes, I have sung that in concerts, so it was interesting to see it in context because, obviously, I had never seen this production onstage anywhere at all with anybody. I’d only ever seen the Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr film and the Jodie Foster film. I quite liked that. I mean I thought it was beautiful to look at. I thought the designs and the settings were just quite wonderful . . . I liked it, but it didn’t move me. I was left a bit wondering why they bothered to make it, kind of thing. I didn’t feel there was anything much between the two of them either, which I like to think there is and was.

PBOL: How about singing the Rodgers and Hammerstein score?
EP: That’s been another eye-opener really. Again, it’s wonderful because it’s not at all taxing on the voice . . . It’s interesting because it’s very lyrical, I suppose, and light to sing . . . It’s not emotionally based. It’s very enjoyable, but it’s all very light-hearted, but it’s marvelous because it’s improving my voice, I think. I’m using a lot more of my head voice than I would normally, the upper register. Therefore, it’s strengthening that area of my voice and, equally, since I only have a matter of four songs or something, it’s very little singing to do compared to these other modern musicals that I’ve been involved in. It sort of a bit reminds me of doing the Cole Porter, the Anything Goes some years ago. It’s that sort of lyric, light voice that’s required.

PBOL: Do you find it more or less difficult than singing Andrew Lloyd Webber’s material?
EP: I love Andrew’s work, as you know, feel very at home with it because it is emotionally based, and it’s dramatic musically -- a lot of his stuff, a lot of the stuff that I’ve done anyway. And I love that because whilst that’s difficult and it’s tiring on the voice and you have to be very careful how often you sing that because it’s tiring and taxing on the vocal chords. But I love it ‘cause you can get your teeth into it and draw something out of it emotionally. Whereas this is much more light-hearted. It’s fun, but it’s not . . . I don’t think it’s quite as fulfilling for me.

PBOL: You don’t get those big musically dramatic moments . . .
EP: I miss those, you see, but then again that’s what I’ve been brought up on. Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita and Billy and all those early shows. I’ve always been cast to sing the big ballads, the emotional songs, and now here I am cast in a character that seems so very different in that respect: both in terms of the woman herself and what I’m required to do in the show. But, I have to say, because of this, because it’s a light singing voice that I’m having to use and the fact that I’m only singing a few songs every night and the fact that I’m not dragging myself through the hedge backward emotionally as the character, it’s wonderful because I can enjoy this role without feeling absolutely dog-tired at the end of it.

PBOL: I know you say you always enjoy the rehearsal process very much. I was wondering what it was like to work with director Christopher Renshaw.
EP: I enjoyed working with him very much. He’s a director who, one has to remember, has directed this show two or three times before, so he knows the piece backwards. He really knew the text in both the play and the lyric, and so he knew what he wanted and was quite clear and concise in his direction. Obviously, he would allow us to discover things for ourselves, and obviously every person who plays the King and Anna are always going to be different from one another. He seemed to be very good in allowing us to discover the roles ourselves as well as being specific about certain things that he knew he wanted. So, it was all very pleasurable and very relaxed. He’s also a Piscean like myself. I don’t know if that makes any difference except that we’re just such marvelous people! [Laughs.] No, I’m teasing. It was all very relaxed and very good humored. We have an absolutely delightful company. And I think it’s been said before about this piece that there’s something magical that happens when people are in this show. And I certainly think that kind of happened to us in the rehearsal period. Everyone got on terribly well and enjoyed the rehearsal process and worked terribly hard and were terribly committed and devoted to it. It’s a lovely company, and Jason [Scott Lee] is proving to be very good as the King.

Next week, Part II of my interview with EP. And, for now, some more diva news!

IN OTHER NEWS: Lea DeLaria, Sandy Duncan, Donna Murphy, Bebe Neuwirth, Phyllis Newman and Karen Ziemba will take part in a star-studded reading of Clare Boothe Luce’s The Women. Directed by Newman and Betsy Friday David, the reading is a benefit for the Phyllis Newman Women’s Health Initiative of The Actors’ Fund of America. There is a $250 donation, which includes the reading and a pre-performance cocktail party. The event will begin at 6 PM on Monday, July 17 at the Lucille Lortel Theatre (121 Christopher Street); call (212) 221-7300 ext. 129 for reservations . . . Tony winner Lillias White returns to the cabaret stage of Arci’s Place from July 11 through July 22. She will play Tuesday through Friday evenings at 9 PM and Friday and Saturday nights at 8:30 and 11:30 PM. The show will also include “special surprise guests,” and there is a music charge of $25 and a $15 food/drink minimum. Call (212) 532-4370 . . . Former Jekyll & Hyde star Christiane Noll will also appear at Arci’s Place from August 15 through September 2 with the same performance schedule and ticket information as Ms. White . . . Coinciding with the release of her new album on the DRG label, KT Sullivan will perform “The Sweetest Sounds of Richard Rodgers” at The FireBird Cafe on West 46th Street. The tribute to the legendary composer of Oklahoma!, The Sound of Music, The King and I and South Pacific will include such classics as “I Have Dreamed,” “Something Wonderful,” “The Sweetest Sounds,” “Love, Look Away” and many others. Sullivan’s run begins on Wednesday, July 5 and concludes Friday, July 21. There is a $30 music charge and a $20 minimum; call (212) 586-0244 for reservations . . . Another chanteuse celebrating the release of her new album, “Come Walk With Me,” is jazz singer Martha Lorin, who will also take to the intimate stage of New York City’s FireBird Cafe. Lorin will perform selections from her new disc on Sunday, June 25 at 9 PM. There will be a $20 music charge and a $15 minimum.

REMINDERS:

BETTY BUCKLEY

June 30 & July 1: John Drew Theatre (Guild Hall) in East Hampton, NY
July 24: Martin Theatre (Ravinia Festival) in Highland Park, IL
Aug. 21-Sept. 3: Donmar Warehouse in London, UK
September 16: Stranahan Theatre in Toledo, OH
Oct. 6-7: Scottsdale Center for the Arts Theatre in Scottsdale, AZ
Oct. 28: Univ. of Texas Cowan Fine & Perf. Arts Center in Tyler, TX

BARBARA COOK

I recently received a few new concert dates for theatre/cabaret legend Barbara Cook, which follow:
July 28 and 29: at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, CA
Sept. 14: at the Poway Center for the Performing Arts in Poway, CA (619) 748-0505
Sept. 21 & 22: at the Sydney Opera House (in concert with David Campbell) in Sydney, Australia 011-61-2-9250-7777
Sept. 28-Oct. 1: at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa, CA (714) 556-2787 LINDA EDER

Eder in concert:
July 8: with Michael Feinstein & The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra at the Chastain Park Amphitheatre in Atlanta, GA; (404) 733-4801
July 14: with Feinstein at the Paramount Theatre in Seattle, WA; (206) 628-0888
July 15: with Feinstein at Schnitzer Hall in Portland, OR; (503) 274 6564
July 16: with Feinstein at the Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco, CA; (415) 551-2000
August 5 at the Wildflower Music Festival in White Mills, PA
Aug. 6: with Feinstein at the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, NJ; (732) 335-0400
Aug. 8: with Feinstein at the Mann Performing Arts Center in Philadelphia, PA (215) 336-2000
Aug. 9: with Feinstein at the Wolf Trap Filene Center in Vienna, VA; (703) 218-6500 or 1-800-955-5566
Aug. 19: at the John Drew Theater of Guild Hall in East Hampton, NY (631) 324-4050
Aug. 25: with Feinstein at The Ravinia Festival in Chicago, IL; go to www.ravinia.org
Aug. 26: Boys & Girls Club Fundraiser at The River Center w/ Michael Feinstein in Minneapolis, MN
Sept. 26: at the Jones Hall w/Houston Symphony in Houston, TX; call (713) 224-7575
Nov. 4: at the Westbury Music Fair in Long Island, NY; call (516) 334 0800
Nov. 17: at the State Theatre in New Brunswick, NJ; call (732) 246 SHOW
Nov. 18: at the State Theatre in Easton, PA; call (610) 252-3132

PATTI LUPONE

Several concert dates have been added to Patti LuPone’s ever-growing schedule. What follows are La LuPone’s confirmed concert appearances as of this week:
July 8: at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, CA (with Audra McDonald and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra); (323) 850-2000
July 29: ("Matters of the Heart") at the Long Island Summer Festival at Planting Fields Arboretum in Oyster Bay, NY; (516) 922-0061
Sept. 9: ("Matters of the Heart") at the Valentine Theatre in Toledo, Ohio; (419) 242-2787
Sept. 23: at the University of Maine in Orono; (800) 622-8499
Oct. 7: ("Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda") with the Alabama Symphony Orchestra in Birmingham, Alabama; (205) 458-8401
Nov. 3: ("Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda") with the Louisville Symphony Orchestra in Louisville, Kentucky (502) 583-4555
April 8: ("Matters Of The Heart") at Duke University’s Page Auditorium in Durham, North Carolina; (919) 684-4444
Jan. 5-7, 2001: at the Morton J. Myerson Symphony Center in Dallas, TX (214) 871-4000

KAREN MASON
June 25: The Bradstan Country Hotel in White Lake, NY (914) 583 4114
July 18-23: World Premiere of White Christmas at the St. Louis MUNY Opera
Sept. 5-14: at Arci’s Place in New York, NY (212) 532-4370

AUDRA McDONALD


July 4: in Washington, DC with the National Symphony/Independence Day broadcast
July 8: in Hollywood, CA at the Hollywood Bowl (with Patti LuPone); (323) 850-2000
July 15: in Cleveland, OH at theBlossom Festival/Cleveland Orchestra; (800) 686-1141
July 21: in San Fransisco, CA with the San Fransisco Symphony; (415) 864-6000
Aug. 6: in Detroit, MI at the Meadowbrook Festival/Detroit Symphony; (313) 576-5111
Aug. 16: in Chicago, IL at the Ravinia Festival; (847) 266-5100
Sept. 28-30: with the National Symphony Orchestra

BERNADETTE PETERS

The two-time Tony winner will conclude her run in Annie Get Your Gun on September 2, when she will begin a U.S. concert tour:
September 15 at the Starlight Theatre in Kansas City (with symphony)
Sept. 22: at the Mann Music Center in Philadelphia
Oct. 6: at the Einsenhower Hall Theatre in West Point, NY
Oct. 7: at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, NJ
Oct. 13: at the OnCenter War Memorial in Syracuse, NY
Jan. 5, 2001: at PAC in Tulsa, Oklahoma (with symphony)
Jan. 11: at the Leon County Civic Center in Tallahassee
Jan. 13: at the Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater
March 29: at Proctor’s Theatre in Schenectady, NY
April 6: at the Bass Perf. Hall in Fort Worth, TX (with symphony)
April 7-8: at the Grand 1894 Opera House in Galveston, TX
April 19: at the Roy Thompson Hall in Toronto (with symphony)
April 28: at the Pasquerilla PAC in Johnstown, PA
May 11-12: at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis, MN (with symphony)
May 18-20: at the Myerson Hall in Dallas, TX (with symphony)

Well, that’s all for now. Happy diva-watching!

By Andrew Gans