The diminutive powerhouse that is Elaine Paige took Boston by storm May 7 when she made her U.S. concert debut with the Boston Pops. The evening, which was the season debut of the Boston Pops Orchestra, was divided into three segments. The first section was devoted entirely to the Pops Orchestra, who, under the direction of Keith Lockhart, offered spirited renditions of Malcolm Arnold's "Four Scottish Dances" and Leonard Bernstein's "Times Square: 1944" from On The Town, among others. For the second segment, the Pops again played by themselves-offering the "Malambo" from Estancia and the North American premiere of a new work by Peter Maxwell Davies, entitled Mavis in Las Vegas--and together with Stefan Jackiw, a 12-year-old violinist prodigy, who brought the audience to its feet after performing Henryk Wieniawski's Violin Concerto No. 2 in D Minor, Opus 22.
For the third segment (the one for which this writer traveled to New England) British diva Elaine Paige was invited onstage by conductor Lockhart, who announced, "Our next guest is truly a musical theatre legend. She has created the roles of Eva Peron, Grizabella and is the definitive Norma Desmond, and tonight she is making her American concert hall debut." Then, Paige, looking glorious in a beaded black gown with her upswept hair, took the stage to deliver her knock-out rendition of "As If We Never Said Goodbye," which built slowly and with crystal-clear diction to the climactic, "This world's waited longed enough. I've come home at last!"
After the roar of approval from the audience subsided, Paige joked about the casting of Dennis Rodman as the next Norma Desmond, and then she admitted, "I may have been the last Norma, but I was the first Evita." This statement was followed by her version of that show's anthem, "Don't Cry for Me Argentina." It was a thrill to hear her perform "Don't Cry for Me" live after listening to the London cast recording for so many years.
Just to hear the exuberant way she sings, "So I chose freedom" was worth the trip to Boston. After finishing the song, Paige joked, "You know, I have to go and see that film," which elicited a roar of laughter from the Boston crowd. Paige then invited the audience to journey with her to Paris as she delivered three songs from her critically-hailed performance as Edith Piaf in the Pam Gems opus: "Ballad of Poor Old John," "Hymne a l'Amour (If You Love Me)" and "Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien (No Regrets)," the first two in English and the third in her flawless French. Paige had a bit of fun with the "Ballad of Poor Old John," accompanied by an accordionist who took centerstage with her, and then she returned to the microphone stand and sang the hell out of "If You Love Me," her voice soaring with the final words: "If you love me/really love/then whatever happens/I won't care."
For "No Regrets" Paige planted herself firmly and then delivered an impassioned version of the Piaf anthem. After explaining that "actors need great parts, and singers need great songs, and I've been very lucky in that Andrew Lloyd Webber gave this one to me," EP launched into her final song, "Memory." The audience rose to its feet after Paige finished the Cats tune, and she returned to the stage for an encore of Jimmy Webb's "Grow Young," a song that Paige said reflected her philosophy of life. It was the perfect ending for a spectacular set of songs: Elaine Paige in Boston was simply superb.
One final footnote: Boston Pops: An Evening with Elaine Paige will begin airing on PBS stations across the country on July 28. Stay tuned for more details.
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