Hello, diva lovers. As we head into the much-awaited Tony Awards weekend, what follows is a special column devoted mainly to our favorite Brit, Elaine Paige. Enjoy. . .
Elaine Paige, that supremely talented being from London, departs New York today, Friday, May 30, after a triumphant ten-month stay in the U.S. that included both her Broadway debut (in Sunset Boulevard) and her first U.S. concert appearance (with the Boston Pops). I had a chance to speak with the always-charming Paige just two days before she was set to head back to her homeland.
In a secluded corner of the Ritz-Carlton's Fantino Restaurant, Paige sipped tea and reflected on her time in the Big Apple, concluding, "It was fantastic. I've just had the best time. I love New York: the people, the energy, the enthusiasm for everything. Only today I was passing Times Square, and to see that enormous queue of people waiting for tickets at the [TKTS] ticket booth just lifts your spirits--the theatre is held in such regard here, and people just love to go to the theatre." Paige also believes that the exuberance found in the theatre-going public translates to life in general in the city. "That's why I've enjoyed it so much," she adds, "because there's an energy here that you get carried along with. I love England, of course, it's my home, but it's slightly more laid back, and I kind of get off on the energy aspect of New York."
When asked about some of the places she has gotten the chance to visit during her just-under-a-year-long stay in New York, Paige singles out the Frick Collection. "I have done a lot of museum and art galleries," Paige says, "and the Frick was just beautiful. It's so calming and relaxing, an oasis. You go in there and. . .it's heaven. It's like having a massage; you come out and feel completely relaxed and rejuvenated." She also has grown fond of Central Park and the restaurant La Goulue on Madison Avenue. "That became a bit of a Sunday lunch haunt for me. I suppose there's something about it feeling rather European or French, doesn't it? That was my European or home kick on a Sunday when I would go there for lunch whilst doing the show, and now I go there any old time!"
It was back in August of '96 that Paige arrived in New York to succeed the Tony-winning Betty Buckley in the complex and hugely demanding role of Norma Desmond in the Broadway company of Sunset Boulevard, after having played the part in London for nearly a year. She had heard about the enthusiastic responses of New York audiences prior to her arrival and admits that it "was great to get that response on a nightly basis, just magic. And, of course, the other thing was just to be able to lead an ordinary life during the day and then to go into the theatre and enjoy that in the evening [was] like having the best of both worlds really." Less well-known in the States than she is in England, Paige was also able to experience a bit of anonymity that she hasn't felt for years back home. "You forget how it feels to just not see people nudging and shoving each other when they see you in the street," she laughs. "That was very pleasant." About saying goodbye to one of the most sought-after parts in musical theatre history, Paige comments, "You know, it was one of those things that is two-fold. Half of me was sad and sorry to see her go because she's a wonderful character to play, and I really got a great deal of enjoyment and fulfillment out of playing that role. And, you know whenever you finish playing a character, the likelihood is that you won't revisit it, so you have to kind of say farewell, and it's like the end of an era in one's acting life. . .so there's always a sadness about that. But, having said that, physically and emotionally it was so demanding to play every night that there was a sense of relief as well that I didn't have to climb and descend those stairs anymore and wear those 30-pound beaded frocks. It was [also] emotionally very draining, so at the end of it I was a bit 'zombified' to be honest, so there was a relief. Also, the pressure of just being in a theatre, having to play a role of that magnitude every night, one worries and becomes obsessive about one's health and one's voice." About a week after leaving the role, Paige admits that she looked in a mirror and thought, "Crikey! I look 15 years younger."
Paige also relates that it takes a good three or four months to regain the entire vocal range. With her voice almost completely back in shape, she looks forward to working on a new album that she hopes to record in the autumn. She's yet to decide on a concept but does explain, "I'm veering from country to Latin American...Gloria Estefan...that kind of Latin thing. I'm into that at the moment, in a big way. Julio, Gloria. I'm heading down that road [and] playing around with lots of ideas at the moment. It's not formulated, but it's coming together."
In addition to an upcoming album, U.S. fans can also look forward to another theatre turn from Paige, her critically-acclaimed portrayal of Edith Piaf. Discussions are currently under way to bring a revised version of the Pam Gems play to Broadway. Says Paige: "Every week that goes by, it seems to be nearer fruition. My agent and manager are talking to producers and talking to people about putting it on. . .I want Peter Hall, who directed it in England to redirect it here, and I understand that he's free in the new year. So, it could well be the new year or early spring, if it comes together. I've got everything I've got crossed in the hope that it will happen! It's something I very much want to do."
Before our conversation concluded, Paige also wanted to say "thank you" to her many American fans, both those who have waited anxiously for her Broadway debut and the fans who have recently come aboard the Paige brigade: "I would just like to say to all my American fans thank you for supporting me and coming to see me in Sunset Boulevard and for buying my albums [The entire imported catalog of EP albums will soon be available at Virgin and HMV.] and just to say great thanks for being there. And, hang on in there, and come and see me if I'm doing anything in England if you can. If not, I hope to be back sooner rather than later here to do either concerts or Piaf, as I say, I'm hoping to do that. But we'll make sure that everybody knows what's going on, so that they can hopefully come and see me again when I come back."
It's been great to have Paige brightening up The Great White Way with her unique talent and her great style these past ten months. In order to avoid EP withdrawal, I'd recommend playing a few tracks from her Encore album, and it'll be "as if [she] never said goodbye."
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