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INTERVIEW: Elaine Paige Heads Back to the Follies

The legendary actress discusses playing Carlotta in the landmark musical, her future career plans, and her feeling about awards. logo
Elaine Paige
(© Tristan Fuge)
Elaine Paige has been one of the musical theater world's greatest stars for more than 30 years, with leading roles in Evita, Cats, Chess, Sunset Boulevard, and Sweeney Todd, to name a few. Last year, she took on the role of Carlotta Campion in Stephen Sondheim and James Goldman's landmark musical, Follies, first at Washington D.C.'s Kennedy Center and then on Broadway at the Marquis Theatre.

On May 3, she returns to the role for a six-week run in Follies at Los Angeles' Ahmanson Theatre. TheaterMania recently spoke to Paige about the show, her future concert plans, her wish list of musical theater roles, and her feelings about awards.

THEATERMANIA: Was Carlotta a character you had a longtime interest in playing?
ELAINE PAIGE: I have always loved Follies as a musical and I am a huge fan of Stephen Sondheim. So it was definitely on my list of parts I would like to do. "I'm Still Here" is one of the great female musical theater numbers ever written for an actress, so when I was asked to play Carlotta I was thrilled.

TM: How did your performance change from the Kennedy Center through the Broadway run?
EP: A character always evolves as you play it. You explore different aspects when performing live that you don't get within a few weeks rehearsal. And working with the legendary Mr. Sondheim was very special in my development of the role. To sit and talk to him about her, the fact that he'd written the song about Joan Crawford and her career, gave me such a wonderful insight into Carlotta and the song, which I hope in turn I conveyed in my portrayal.

Elaine Paige in Follies
(© Joan Marcus)
TM: Will coming back to Follies after a four-month hiatus be difficult for you?
EP: Carlotta is part of my theatrical family now; she's embedded in my psyche. I have '"known" her and the song for over a year, so it will be like welcoming back an old friend.

TM: Do you think LA audiences will react differently than NY or DC audiences?
EP: I have never performed in LA, so unfortunately I can't answer that question precisely. All I can say is the reaction in Washington and then Broadway was thrilling and so we're hoping that the LA audiences will feel the same. And how can they not; it's a wonderful production of an intelligent, well crafted piece of theater.

TM: Your American Songbook concert at the Allen Room in February was amazing. Will you be doing more of those sort of engagements in the future?
EP: We're going to take that show to different venues across the U.S. We're currently working on dates for the early part of 2013. I am very excited about the prospect of touring the United States.

TM: You have played so many great roles in your career. What roles in the musical theater canon would you still like to play?
EP: Mama Rose in Gypsy. I'd love to do Mame. Dolly Levi might be fun! And definitely Desiree in A Little Night Music -- a role with another great song written by my current boss! I like strong, meaty women with soft centers!

TM: Who would you like to write a brand new musical just for you?
EP: To have someone write a musical for you is incredible. I was lucky enough to have the musical Chess written for me, so I know how it feels. I would love it if Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber got together again to do one or Stephen Sondheim because they are still at the top their game. However, I am always on the lookout for good young new writers.

TM: Younger people are now discovering you through YouTube. Is that exciting to you?
EP: I do find the whole web phenomenon exciting but scary at the same time. It's great that one can discover artists, and of course I have my own website ( and I tweet. But the speed with which things happen today I do find frightening. I wouldn't want to be starting out today. When I first got the role of Eva Peron I had camera crews and photographers outside my home, but somehow it was all very contained. Nowadays, everyone has a camera, everyone has access to the web and overnight your work can be known for good -- or bad -- instantly. I think that in itself can create pressure.

TM: You've won many awards in England for your work. Now, it's "awards" season in New York, and you could well be nominated for -- and win -- a Drama Desk or a Tony for Follies. What do awards mean to you?
EP: Awards are the icing on the cake and it's so nice to be acknowledged for your work by the industry you work in, but it's the work that matters. Trying to find the character and bringing it to life, that's really what makes me tick. The audience reaction also makes it all worthwhile -- to make a whole audience full of people laugh or cry, or even make just one person in that audience forget about their worries for a couple of hours, that's worth more than a whole bag of awards!

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