This Is Your Brain On Musical Theatre - 10 questions with (The First Lady of Musical Theatre!) Elaine Paige

This Is Your Brain On Musical Theatre - 10 questions with (The First Lady of Musical Theatre!) Elaine Paige

Elaine Paige is indeed our First Lady. One of the true legends of musical theatre, she introduced the world to no less than three of the genre's most powerful female characters, Eva Peron in EVITA, Grizabella in CATS and Florence in CHESS - a musical created especially for her by Tim Rice and ABBA's Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus.

With successful international tours and more than 20 solo albums released through-out her career, Paige has also become an artist of immense cross-over appeal. She had a top 10 hit in the UK with Memory from CATS before her recording of I Know Him So Well with Barbara Dickson went to Number 1 on the charts. This song from the CHESS concept album made history as the UK's most successful female duo recording, and in 2011 was listed at number 7 of the top 10 biggest selling duets of all time.

In 1996 Paige made her long-awaited Broadway debut as Norma Desmond in SUNSET BOULEVARD. She went on to perform stateside in the New York City Opera production of Sondheim's SWEENEY TODD and as Carlotta in the 2011 Kennedy Centre production of FOLLIES in Washington DC, a role she reprised on Broadway and in Los Angeles to critical acclaim.

A genuine superstar of musical theatre, Elaine Paige is much loved on both sides of the Atlantic and here across the Pacific. As she prepares for a concert tour of Australia and New Zealand later this month, she took time out to share a little of her (legendary!) brain on musical theatre.

This Is Your Brain On Musical Theatre - 10 questions with Elaine Paige

Is there a particular show and/or person that first made you feel like ‘this is what I want to do’?

There was always music in our house – my father was a drummer and loved jazz and my mother loved vocalists such as Ella Fitzgerald and Perry Como. It was my music teacher at school who first noticed my singing voice and she, along with both of my parents, encouraged me to explore further. So I went to the Aida Foster School to learn singing and acting, but it was West Side Story that made me want to do musicals. I just loved that show. 

Can you remember the moment when you first understood that you could sing the way most others can’t? 

I think it must have been when my school staged The Boy Mozart, an operetta based on the composer’s life and work. I sang the mezzo role, Bastienne, from the opera Bastien and Bastienne, the first of many emotional songs that have shaped my career. When I sobbed at the end of the aria the audience gasped! It was after this my father asked if I’d like to go to drama school.

Is there one night particular in your career that you would love to go back to and experience over again? 

One would be the first night of Evita – like most first nights the nerves kick in so much the whole experience is quite terrifying so you never really enjoy the moment until it is all over. So it would be good to go back, and experience it knowing what I know now. The other would be the first time I finally got to perform on Broadway. It was as Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard. I was nervous, but shouldn’t have worried. The effusive New York audience welcomed me with an embarrassingly generous ovation. And on that night my memorable first line “Why are you so late?” had special meaning. That night was a thrill.

This Is Your Brain On Musical Theatre - 10 questions with (The First Lady of Musical Theatre!) Elaine PaigeYou have played so many of the great female roles. Is there one role that belongs to the opposite gender or perhaps a different age group that you’d secretly love to perform?

I always wanted to play Juliet in Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet but never got the chance.  And when I was Mrs Lovett in Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd I often thought what it would be like to play Sweeney. It’s such a great role and Mark Delavan who played opposite me had the most incredibly strong, loud voice for this dark and foreboding role. Amazing. 

There are so many songs that belong to you (Memory, I Know Him So Well, Don’t Cry For Me Argentina to name a few). Is there one particular song that you love to perform above all others?

That is always such a hard question to answer as they all have special meaning to me, so to single one of those out would be impossible. As a singer its wonderful to find a new song to sing that isn’t necessarily associated with you. One that I love is the Jim Webb song ‘Grow Young’. I recorded it for an album a while ago and I often add it to the end of a concert as an extra encore as many of my fans have grown to love it too, so its something special for them and for me!

CHESS is beloved by many and the 1984 concept album remains my favourite recording. Can you remember your reaction when you first heard the score?

I’ve always said it’s rather wonderful to have a song written for you, but can you imagine how proud I felt to have a whole musical written for me. It began as a concept album; I would visit Stockholm on various weekends to work in ABBA’s Polar Recording Studios. With Benny, Bjorn, Tim Rice and Tommy Korberg, we tried out different tunes, keys and lyrics; swapped around duets and solos. To be part of the creative process and to hear those soaring melodies roll out like waves from Benny’s fingers was a truly remarkable experience.

When you watch a show as part of the audience, do you ever get the urge to sing along?

Oh no! I’m much too involved in watching the piece and enjoying the experience as an audience member. And it would be disrespectful to the actors.

What book/TV show/movie is the next hit musical just waiting to happen?

Well if I knew that I wouldn’t be giving it away, I’d be trying to produce it!

Do you still sing in the shower when you sing for a living? 

Yes I do – all the steam is good for the vocal chords especially if I’m performing or rehearsing. I sing around the house too, particularly if there’s a song on the radio that I know, love and evokes a memory (no pun intended).

and finally, borrowing from James Lipton via Bernard Pivot:

What sound or noise do you love?

Silence. I think modern life is so full of noise that when you find yourself somewhere absolutely quiet it is pure heaven!


Elaine Paige in Concert - Australia and New Zealand, October 2012

HAMILTON - Sunday, 14 October 2012
Claudelands Arena, Ticketek 0800 TICKETEK

CHRISTCHURCH - Tuesday, 16 October 2012
CBS Arena, Ticketek 0800 TICKETEK

PERTH - Saturday, 20 October 2012
Riverside Theatre, Ticketek 132 849

ADELAIDE - Tuesday, 23 October 2012
Aec Theatre, Ticketek 132 849

MELBOURNE - Wednesday, 24 October 2012
Palais Theatre, Ticketmaster 136 100

SYDNEY - Friday, 26 October 2012
State Theatre, Ticketmaster 136 100

CANBERRA - Sunday, 28 October 2012
Canberra Theatre, Canberra Ticketing

BRISBANE - Monday, 29 October 2012
Qpac Concert Hall, Qtix Box Office 136 246

For further information on New Zealand performances visit Pacific Entertainment here.

For further information on Australian performances visit Lennard Promotions here.

This Is Your Brain On Musical Theatre - 10 questions with (The First Lady of Musical Theatre!) Elaine Paige

Images: Supplied

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