Music preview: Getting to know songbird Elaine Paige, up close and personal
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Elaine Paige never got around to touring the United States in concert -- until now. The musical theater star who created the roles of Eva Peron in "Evita," Grizabella in "Cats" and Florence in "Chess" is playing venues across the nation and has her U.S. finale in Pittsburgh Tuesday before returning to her London home and her weekly Sunday show on BBC Radio 2.
It's not that Ms. Paige hasn't seen some of the USA besides New York. She sang at the opening of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah, for starters.
"I've sung at the White House, I've sung in Lincoln Center, but my knowledge of America in terms of concerts is that I have almost no idea about where I'm performing other than what I've been told," Ms. Paige said.
The British artist, who turned 65 on Tuesday, put "Memory" on the map, made a splash on Broadway in "Sunset Boulevard" and last year in "Follies," and across the pond is referred to as the First Lady of Musical Theater. She has been on the road since Feb. 5, starting in Sweden and Denmark and then moving from the West Coast to the East for eight one-night shows in 15 days. The venues have varied: New York's Town Hall seats more than 800, the Mesa, Ariz., venue 550 and the Cabaret around 230, so here in Pittsburgh, we'll get to know the songbird up close and personal.
"I'm more used to big venues like the ones I've played in Australia and China, where it's usually about 2,000 people," she said. "This is a voice and piano, and a new experience for me, a much more intimate experience, and I can't wait."
Ms. Paige will perform a set of favorite musical theater numbers, plus a couple of surprises and lively banter a la previous shows on the Trust Cabaret series, which has brought Betty Buckley and Christine Andreas to the Cabaret at Theater Square, with Christine Ebersole (April 8) and Karen Akers (May 6) still to come.
"I have a number in there written especially for me by the writers of the new songs for 'Mary Poppins' that's been on Broadway, Anthony Drew and George Styles. It's a very witty little comedy song called 'Small Packages.' I think people may be surprised to hear a Beatles song, which is more the modern genre than the theater genre. ... Well, I don't want to give too much away."
"Small Packages" refers to "the best things come in ...," as her father told her when she fretted about standing less than 5 feet tall. A sample of the lyrics is "God bless her soul, Eva Peron was short" -- a reference to the fact the role was Ms. Paige's big break in 1978, when she won London's Tony, the Olivier Award, for performance of the year.
You can be sure there will be a selection from Edith Piaf's repertoire as well, said the woman who spent a year portraying the French chanteuse in Pam Gems' musical play, "Piaf," and released an album of the same name. "I think her voice and mine have a lot of the same qualities," Ms. Paige said.
Playbill.com writer Andrew Gans, covering her New York concert debut in February 2012 at Jazz at Lincoln Center, gushed, "Elaine Paige demonstrated once again why she was able to originate the leading roles in 'Evita,' 'Cats' and 'Chess' ... pure talent mixed with a voice that soars like few others and a genuine joie de vivre that is completely contagious."
As she travels through the United States, she has her camera close at hand, and she's quick on the draw when it comes to staying in touch with fans online.
"When one's touring and the schedule is pretty tight, you often don't have a great deal of time to see much more than the hotel, the venue and the airport. But if I can, I like to be able to go around the town and get the feel of it. I love taking photographs, especially now I'm on Twitter," she said. "I tweet a lot."
First Published March 10, 2013 12:00 am