Originating the role of Grizabella the Glamour Cat in the original 1981 West End production was kismet, Paige says. Before joining the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, the Evita star was in her car when she heard that a tune from Cats would be played later that night, so she immediately went home to record the music—and came across a mangy cat she took as a sign of things to come. The next day, producer Cameron Mackintosh phoned the Olivier winner and asked her to step in as Grizabella for an injured Judi Dench, “and the rest, as they say, is history,” she says.
And that cat? It stayed. Paige named her Grizabella, of course.
One of Paige’s favorite moments in the show comes just prior to Grizabella's big 11 o’clock number. Shunned by the Jellicle cat community, Grizabella spots a young kitten and tries to emulate her, but old age and years of solitude have stripped away her agility.
Cats choreographer Gillian Lynne knew Paige loved to dance but had something different in mind for the star in this pre-“Memory” ballet. “I want you to have a little dance number before you sing the song,” Lynne told Paige during initial rehearsals. “But you can’t do it, because your back hurts and your legs ache and you end up on the floor before you sing. You’re a mess, and you just can’t get it together.”
Paige loved the idea—the dance gave the song a spring board so that everyone in the audience knew what place the character was singing from. “The glamorous life that she led all those years ago is lost and far behind her. It’s a song of yearning.”
Paige returned to Cats for the filmed production 15 years later, after earning additional Olivier Award nominations for Chess, Anything Goes, Piaf, and Sunset Boulevard. And with a decade-and-a-half more life experience, Paige was able to explore the role in a deeper way.
“One didn’t need to paint with such broad strokes,” says Paige of filming on a fully dressed stage with no audience. “You were able to be more inward thinking. It was an interesting exercise, just to be able to bring it all down and focus it in.”
Watch Paige's full intervew in the video above, and relive the Jellicle Ball and Paige's performance with Playbill’s watch party at 7 PM May 15 on Twitter.