DIVA TALK: Elaine Paige Soars in AC Plus a Chat with In the Heights' Jordin Sparks

News   DIVA TALK: Elaine Paige Soars in AC Plus a Chat with In the Heights' Jordin Sparks News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.

Elaine Paige
Elaine Paige

ELAINE PAIGE
It may have taken me a quarter of a century to finally have the opportunity to see Elaine Paige in a full solo concert, but unlike so many things in life, it was more than worth the proverbial wait: Paige, who made her long-awaited Broadway debut in Sunset Boulevard, offered a thrilling, emotion-filled evening at The Borgata's Music Box Theater in Atlantic City Sept. 25.

Proving that good things do indeed come in "Small Packages" — the title of a novelty song penned for the original star of Evita, Cats and Chess by Mary Poppins' George Stiles and Anthony Drewe that Paige sang with relish — the singing actress so wowed the New Jersey audience that they rewarded the British talent with no less than four standing ovations. (I believe I finally lost count.)

What's remarkable is not that such a powerful voice comes from the rather diminutive Paige, but that such power could come from any singer. When the award-winning artist opens up her belt in such tunes as "As If We Never Said Goodbye" or "If You Love Me," the sound flows from Paige in what can only be described as a volcanic eruption. But it's not only the power, it's the rounded tone and the beautiful, rippling vibrato that make the experience such a joy to the senses. When you add her innate lyrical interpretive sensibilities as well as her acting skills, it is no wonder why no one has been able to topple her position as The Leading Lady of the British Musical Theatre.

Paige began her 90-minute set with the only misstep of the evening, "Life Goes On," a subpar tune that even the gifted singing actress couldn't make enjoyable. (Perhaps Cy Coleman's "You There in the Back Row" might have been a fitting start to this evening of theatrical treasures.) After that point, however, it was smooth sailing. Whether she was singing, chatting with the audience or dancing around the stage, it was an evening of theatrical magic that featured the many high points of Paige's award-winning stage career.

An abridged version of her DVD, "Elaine Paige: Celebrating 40 Years on Stage," the Atlantic City concert — which also included Frank Loesser's "Luck Be a Lady" — tracked Paige's four decades in the musical theatre, beginning with Hair and continuing through Evita, Cats, Chess, Anything Goes, Piaf, Sunset Boulevard and Sweeney Todd. Highlights of an evening full of highlights included a terrific rendition of Stephen Sondheim's "Broadway Baby" that interpolated several comedic stories about Paige's beginnings in the musical theatre; a moving version of the Beatles classic "Yesterday" (Paige said this was her audition tune for Evita — it's no wonder she nabbed the role), Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" from the aforementioned musical, which garnered Paige the first of her several standing ovations; the second-act Sunset Boulevard showstopper, "As If We Never Said Goodbye," which Paige brought to full emotional life; the great torch song "Cry Me a River," which she imbued with a torrent of voice and emotion; the Edith Piaf signature, "If You Love Me," which was delivered with a heart-piercing intensity; the Cats anthem "Memory"; and a riveting "With One Look." It should also be noted that Paige has a great time onstage; she spreads an infectious joy to the audience and also doesn't take herself too seriously. She laughed with great gusto when, forgetting that she had placed her microphone on the piano, she began speaking into the microphone stand. She also delivered a hilarious anecdote about a memorable introduction to the Queen Mother, all the while building the evening to a stunning finale.

Now, that Paige has conquered the New Jersey boardwalk crowd, she must bring this dazzling evening to New York audiences — whether it's a Broadway house, Carnegie Hall, Town Hall or my living room, the venue is not important. What is, however, is that some smart producer make it happen… and soon.

Jordin Sparks and Lin-Manuel Miranda
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

JORDIN SPARKS
Jordin Sparks, the 2007 winner of TV's "American Idol," stepped into another American success story last month when she joined the Broadway cast of In the Heights at the Richard Rodgers Theatre. Sparks is making her Broadway debut in the role of college student Nina Rosario, who returns home from Stanford University for the summer with a secret that shakes the foundation of her family's American dream. Sparks, who is playing a limited 12-week engagement through Nov. 14, recently spoke about her Broadway debut; that brief interview follows:

Question: How did this role in In the Heights come about for you?
Jordin Sparks: I took a meeting with Lin [Manuel Miranda] and a few other people to talk about the show being adapted to film. We started talking about Broadway and if I'd ever consider it, and I told them I would love to do it one day. They told me to go see the show, and I did and fell in love with it. They called me to do a work session a few weeks later, where I auditioned with the music and acted out a few scenes, and then they called a month later and asked if I would be a part of the show!

Question: Had Broadway been a goal of yours?
Sparks: I've always loved Broadway. I think it was actually my first introduction to performing in general. I saw the Rockettes when I was four, and I told my mom and nana at the time that I would be up here one day. After "Idol," I still wanted to do it. I just thought it would be five-ten years down the road!

Question: How has the Broadway experience been different than you had imagined?
Sparks: It's a lot harder than people think. It's exhausting, but it's been so much fun! I'm learning something new every day. It's different than a solo show because [in a solo show] I can talk to the audience and interact with them. On the Broadway stage, I have to be in Nina's world and the audience has to be in theirs, so I'm trying to look anywhere else but the [audience].  [Laughs.]

Sparks with Olga Merediz in In the Heights
photo by Joan Marcus

Question: How would you describe Nina?
Sparks: Nina is very headstrong. She's always been motivated and achieved anything she set her mind to. So when she comes home after failing something she thought she'd ace, she has to come back and tell the people she loves most [that] she let them down. I definitely relate to that feeling of anxiety! Question: Do you have a favorite moment in the show for her?
Sparks: One of my favorite moments is when she's struggling with her emotions but puts them aside to be there for someone else.

Question: What is the biggest challenge of performing the role?
Sparks: I think the biggest challenge is having to be in her mindset. I'm usually always happy-go-lucky, and Nina is struggling with having to tell her parents something she's kept from them for a while. So when I walk into the theatre, I have to think of what I'm going through that day and how it will affect her character.

Question: Would you like to return to Broadway? Are there any other roles you would like to tackle?
Sparks: I would love to! There are so many amazing shows, it's hard to pick just one. I think all of them would be a new experience. My dream is for Smokey Joe's Café to re-open and I could be in that!

Question: Do you have other projects lined up following your Broadway run?
Sparks: I've got a few things up my sleeve, but I can't say what quite yet. But I hope to start working on new music soon!

Question: And, finally, what are your thoughts about all the changes going on at "American Idol"?
Sparks: I think it's making my head spin! But sometimes changes are good. I heard that J. Lo is going to be a judge! She was so sweet when she was my mentor during my season. I don't know what it's going to be like without Paula and Simon, but we'll have to see! I'm definitely going to tune in!

[In the Heights plays the Richard Rodgers Theatre, 226 West 46th Street; for tickets call (212) 307-4100 or visit Ticketmaster.com; for more information go to Intheheightsthemusical.com.]

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

The cast of <i>In the Heights</i>
The cast of In the Heights
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