DIVA TALK: Catching Up with West End Musical Theatre Star Elaine Paige

Diva Talk   DIVA TALK: Catching Up with West End Musical Theatre Star Elaine Paige
 
News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.

Elaine Paige
Elaine Paige

Exciting news for Elaine Paige fans! The West End musical theatre star, who boasts one of the great voices in musical theatre history and who made her long-awaited Broadway debut in Andrew Lloyd Webber's Sunset Boulevard, is heading back to New York City.

The celebrated singing actress, who created lead roles in the London productions of Evita, Cats and Chess, told me last week that she will make her New York cabaret debut at Feinstein's at Loews Regency in the fall.

The engagement will mark a rare departure for Paige, who is accustomed to playing large theatres and concert houses. "Recently, I just did a jazz set . . . at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival here in England," Paige told me, "and that was in a very small, kind of intimate [venue] similar to Feinstein's. And, initially, I thought, 'Oh, my gosh, I'm not going to enjoy this. [The audience will be] too close to me," she laughed. "And actually, you know, I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed the intimacy of it and the fact that I could feel them almost. It's incredible, and it went down absolute storms. So I'm hoping that, having dipped my toe into it here, that it'll work as well in New York for me."

Paige, who will arrive in New York at the end of June, will also record programs for her acclaimed weekly BBC radio program, "Elaine Paige on Sunday," which celebrates the best of Broadway, Hollywood and the West End. The program has allowed Paige a chance to chat with some of the biggest names in theatre, music and film. "I love it, I really love it. It's such fun," Paige said, "and . . . who would ever think that the boot would be on the other foot? It's such fun to meet people that I have seen and watched and admired in the theatre all my life. For me to meet them and ask all the questions that I want to know about, it's wonderful."

Paige admits that a few of her subjects have left her a bit starstruck. "Bette Midler was one, and Burt Bacharach was another, and Johnny Mathis was another. Elton John — I mean, he was my first interview," she laughed. "I flew to Vegas to interview him, and it was the first one I'd ever done, and I thought, 'Oh, my God! This is being thrown in at the deep end!' But he was charming and lovely to me, as everybody has been. And the interesting thing about it is, I think, that since they know that I'm also a performer, we have a different conversation. Do you know what I mean? It's not the same as just being an interviewer and an interviewee. I think the fact that I am a performer myself gives a slightly different slant to it because they know that I appreciate and understand a lot of the things that we talk about." Although Paige has taken a little break from interviewing guests for her radio program — "because I kind of have done all the A-Listers, really" — she "will resume again when I come to New York . . . It's going to be really fun, because . . . they're all there in New York in the shows, aren't they? The Nathan Lanes, the Bebe Neuwirths, and so on and so forth."

And, there is even more good news for Paige followers: "Elaine Paige: Celebrating a Life on Stage" will be seen on WNET/Thirteen June 9 at 8 PM ET; check local listings. The program, which was filmed in 2009 at the State Theatre in Sydney, Australia, during her 40th anniversary tour, takes audiences on a journey from Paige's beginnings in the musical Hair to performances in Evita, Jesus Christ Superstar, Chess, Cats, Sunset Boulevard.

The program, which is also available on DVD, "is a retrospective, obviously, of my 40 years, starting with Hair, which . . . [just] opened here and [got] rave reviews," she said. "And I went to see it, and I wasn't sure if I was wanting to see it, really, because I thought it could never come up to my own memory of being in it when I was a 'child'! But, actually, I've got to tell you, it was so fantastic, and it's wonderful. The whole original London company went to the first night, and we all went onstage with the Hair company here, for their first night, prior to the show. We all held hands in a circle and had to say who we were [and] what [role] we played, with the current company. So that was great fun and [a] very nostalgic and emotional evening. It was fantastic. So that's where my DVD begins, because that was my West End debut, in Hair. And then I tell the story, in a chronological way, of all the shows since then to date. And it's interspersed with anecdotes and so on of various people that I've met and what happened, and also I've chosen to do some of the songs in costume, which kind of adds another dimension to it, I hope. And with the Piaf section, I make the change in front of the audience – you know, put the wig on and the shoes and all of that and morph from Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard to Edith Piaf in about six or eight bars!"

Elaine Paige in Sunset Boulevard

When asked what it was like for Paige to revisit songs from early in her stellar career, the award-winning actress answered, "The difficulty was trying to work out what to sing and what not to sing. Because, obviously, trying to put a 40-year career into about an hour-and-a-half isn't that easy, really. You've got to cut things down. So, for me to do 'Easy To Be Hard' from Hair, which is the title that I understudied when I first started, it was really rather nice, and I remembered what a great song it is. So it was refreshing to sing some of these songs that I haven't looked at for years and years and years. There's also a song, a Dustin Hoffman and Bette Midler song, 'The Breeze,' which was fun to do. And, there's a comedy number, 'Small Packages,' that I had specially written for me for this concert tour celebration of 40 years. It's about being short. . . and it was specifically written by Stiles and Drewe." While in New York this summer, Paige will also begin recording her latest CD. "I'm just about to go into the studio with Phil Ramone to do a new album," she said. "I'm very excited about it. It's kind of an 'Elaine Paige and Friends'-type album, and it's more modern [songs]. We're doing some covers, but there are a couple of new pieces, as well, and I'm hoping to do a couple of duets with a few pals. . . . I'm really looking forward to it. It's something a bit different and, you know, as [I] try to remind myself, one has to keep surprising one's audience, and I think it's a good idea. And also [it's good to] surprise oneself, so you don't get jaded and bored. So I'm looking forward to it, because it's a bit different. It won't be anything to do with musical theatre."

Speaking of musical theatre, would Paige consider returning to an eight-show-a-week schedule? "Well, nothing has come along, really, to be honest, that interests me enough to want to give up my life for eight shows a week, I have to say. But never say never," she laughed, "but should something come along, of course I would consider it, but so far it hasn't." When this diva lover asks whether the role of Rose in Gypsy ever interested her, Paige says with a laugh, "Yeah, it did, but, I mean, it would kill me off! And, anyway, I think it's something that's [seen frequently], certainly, in New York. . . It is something that I think about, and everybody says the same. But I think, unless I could find some way of doing it in [repertory] or perhaps the National Theatre here in England. . . . because at my age, and knowing how I perform, it's got to be 110 percent. And it's a big, loud role, so I think, 'God, you need a lot of energy to do that!'"

For now, however, Paige's plate is full with her radio show, her upcoming New York cabaret engagement and a new CD. "I'm a busy girl, and here I was thinking I was going to do a little less," she laughed. "No, it's great. It's all good news, and I'm just so looking forward to coming and being in New York for a while."

Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to agans@playbill.com.

Today’s Most Popular News: