Elaine Paige in Concert (50th Anniversary Farewell Tour) at the Royal Albert Hall, London.
It seems strange to imagine but to anybody under the age of 20, Elaine Paige is probably more regarded as a Sunday afternoon radio presenter than as a musical theatre star. Certainly her presence on the Radio 2 show has given musical theatre a much higher profile over the last ten years, but, in fact, Paige’s place in the history of the genre goes much deeper.
In the late 1970s Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice had emerged as major players in a burgeoning London musical theatre scene that had been dominated since the 1950s by Broadway. Jesus Christ Superstar had been a huge commercial hit on Broadway and in the West End and the world waited excitedly for the announcement of their next project, a musical based on the life of Eva Peron.
Paige had not been idly waiting in the wings all this time, having made a name for herself in productions of Hair and a leading role in Billy. Evita however catapulted Paige not only into the public’s consciousness, but also into a new golden age of British musical theatre. As such, this farewell tour is as much about the history of the British musical 1970 to 1990 as it is about Paige herself, with later roles in Cats, Chess and Sunset Boulevard cementing her status as a genuine, bankable West End star.
Thankfully Paige refuses to shy away from the great musicals that made her famous and the capacity crowd are treated to an, albeit tentative interpretation of ‘Don’t Cry For Me Argentina’ as her opening number. The voice has thankfully stood the test of time, and while it may not have the quality it once had, the soaring vocals can still tingle the spine, as demonstrated with the stunning ‘As If We Never Said Goodbye’ from Sunset Boulevard.
As Paige reminisces on her career, she reveals a string of anniversaries to boot. Fifty years in showbusiness, ten years on Radio 2 and 30 years since the release of the album Chess, the first time she had had a musical created with her specifically in mind. Broadway was always a goal and Paige finally got her moment on the Great White Way as Norma Desmond in Lloyd Webber, Don Black and Christopher Hampton’s Sunset Boulevard. Having recently played Carlotta over there in the Lincoln Center revival of Follies, Paige treats the audience to a new version of ‘I’m Still Here’, extremely witty and surprisingly self-deprecating with new lyrics from Anthony Drewe and approval from Sondheim himself.
As a guest artist, Paige introduces Icelandic tenor, Gardar Thor Cortes – improbably subtitled ‘the James Bond of Classical Music’ for a touching duet of ‘Perfect Year’. Blessed with an astounding tenor, Cortes also hits a home run with ‘Anthem’ from Chess and then, as a tribute to his host, ‘Til I Hear You Sing’ from Lloyd Webber’s Love Never Dies.
With numbers by Freddie Mercury – Paige was the first artist to cover Queen songs for an album in 1988 – Harold Arlen, Gershwin and Frank Loesser, the concert itself flies by in a flurry of hits. Directed by Laura Corcoran (yes – of Frisky & Mannish fame!) and featuring the BBC Concert Orchestra led by Chris Egan, Elaine Paige may count this as a farewell tour, but it’s unlikely she’ll be out of the spotlight for too long.