Elaine Paige Keeps Turning
The First Lady of English Musical Theater is equally adept at being an author, radio show host, and concert performer.
That statement, of course, turns out not to be entirely true. For one thing, she has written a photo-essay book celebrating her 40 years in show business, Elaine Paige Memories, which is already quite popular in the UK and is due to be published in the U.S. later this year.
Secondly, Paige has proved to be an extremely popular concert artist; in fact, she will launch a new tour in Birmingham on February 15 that includes a special show at London's Royal Theatre Drury Lane on March 8.
In addition, she's in her sixth year of hosting her BBC Radio 2 show, Elaine Paige on Sunday, which attracts in excess of two million listeners. "The program covers all the great writers of the American and English theater songbooks," explains Paige. "Over 40 years in the business, I've met or been involved with nearly everyone and I've had a great many of them on. I don't do phoners, unless it can't be avoided, but face-to-face interviews in London, New York, and Las Vegas."
Still, Paige is entirely at home on the theatrical stage, as New Yorkers found out when she made a much-belated Broadway debut as Norma Desmond during the run of Sunset Boulevard and when she played Mrs. Lovett in the New York City Opera production of Sweeney Todd. And the Chinese found out the same thing when she has performed there, most recently in a pair of concerts devoted to the music of her great pal Andrew Lloyd Webber. "I was told Chinese audiences would be rather reserved, but to the contrary, they all went absolutely berserk," she says. "It was breathtaking and exciting. The two songs they knew best were 'Memory' and 'Don't Cry for Me, Argentina.' It makes me laugh to think that they knew those two."
Lloyd Webber, who has known Paige for more than 30 years, calls her "the consummate professional and someone who can do what few others can ever dare to aspire to. She has a 'belt' in areas where no self-respecting angel will ever dare to tread and the heart to use this God-given voice in a way that imbues it with true emotion." He also adds that she can be naughty off-stage. "Only her friends know what fun Elaine can be. My life has been enriched by her wickedly contagious talent."
Paige was particularly pleased to make her Broadway debut in a Webber show, and remembers her time in New York with great fondness. "It was a magnificent experience," she notes. "The reviews were amazing but, more than that, the company was so welcoming. The sad thing was that I waited too long. It opened doors, but sad to say, I couldn't stay and build on it. I got offers to return to Broadway, and it wasn't that I wasn't interested. It was my parents' health. Life interrupted, so to speak; but family must take precedence. In fact, I've finally discovered there were other things in life than the dressing room and stage."
Indeed, following her 2000 run as Anna in The King and I, there was a big gap in her English stage work. "Nothing came up that I particularly wanted to do," she says of that period. "I'd been doing concerts worldwide. I enjoyed the idea of being in complete control, how much I would do, when I would do it. And I was able to travel the world."
Then in 2007, she took on the title role in the West End production of The Drowsy Chaperone, which proved to be a surprisingly short-lived experience. "We thought it would be a big success. It's the funniest, most wicked and cleverest piece," she says. "They changed a lot of the writing to accommodate the fact that I'm not exactly the tallest person on the planet, and that led to a lot of gags and comedy by putting me next to long-legged chorus girls."
Nevertheless, Paige is far from ready to give up the stage. She might even have another go at playing French chanteuse Edith Piaf, which she did to great acclaim in the U.K in 1993, especially if she could do it on Broadway. "It's still something I want to do, but I worry about going back when you've done it. Plus, it's a very demanding role and I'm not 25 anymore!" she says. "But performing on stage is a life-giving experience. In England, we say 'Doctor theater,' because no matter how bad you feel, you step onstage, the lights hit you, and you're transported."For more information, visit www.elainepaige.com.