Elaine Paige – Stripped Back at G Live, Guildford. The show continues to tour England and Wales on selected dates until 18 December 2016, ending in the West End.
Star rating: five stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Following on from Elaine Paige’s sell-out tour Page by Page by Paige and the associated concert I’m Still Here two years ago, the legendary performer has returned with Stripped Back, visiting more than 20 venues on selected dates in the latter months of this year. In contrast to 2014’s epic tour, Stripped Back sees the artist deliver a personal homage to her favourite songwriters of the 1960s and 1970s alongside her defining numbers, backed by a select musical ensemble to yield a more intimate performance context.
From the opening song, ‘Magic to Do’ (Pippin), and throughout her 90-minute set, Paige transfixes the audience with a succession of her trademark contemplative, emotionally powerful interpretations, interspersed with some fascinating anecdotes about her stage career, such as the time she met Paul Simon.
As she performs number after number by revered songwriters including Burt Bacharach and Hal David, Carole King and Gerry Goffin, and Jimmy Webb, Paige is on such consistently fine form vocally that it is incredible to think that the Barnet-born singer first ascended to the stage over 50 years ago.
Highlights of Paige’s set from beyond the realm of musical theatre include performances of ‘Yesterday’ (Lennon and McCartney) and of ‘It Might Be You’ from the film Tootsie. Even in the signature tunes of her major roles – ‘Memory’ (Cats), ‘I Know Him So Well’ (Chess), ‘With One Look’ (Sunset Boulevard), and ‘If You Love Me’ (Hymne à l’amour’) (Piaf) – Paige seems to bring a fresh sincerity and emotional depth to her interpretations. The only potential eyebrow-raiser is the absence of ‘Don’t Cry For Me Argentina’ (Evita), which would have aligned well with the general timeframe of the set list.
Special mention should be made of Paige’s phenomenal backing band, the John G. Smith Trio – James Graydon (guitars, vocals), Zoltan Dekany (bass), and the eponymous musical director (piano, vocals, guitar) – here joined by guest performers Dave Elliot (drums) and Andy Panayi (woodwind).
While the breadth of musical talent demonstrated by every member of the ensemble is breathtaking, Panayi’s many dazzling instrumental breaks on both saxophone and flute stand out in particular. The five-piece band doubles as the supporting act for the first half of the show, entertaining the audience with a varied set ranging from jazz to folk pop to rumba, a light jazz take on Billy Joel sitting side by side with some of Smith’s original songs.
The first lady of British musical theatre is back, in every sense, in an exceptional show that represents both a carefully formulated evening’s entertainment and a genuine labour of love on the part of its contributing artists. Elaine Paige – Stripped Back offers a unique, not-to-be-missed opportunity to witness the illustrious doyenne perform the familiar songs that define her distinguished career in tandem with those that have proven particularly influential to her along the way.