She’s celebrating a half-century in showbiz this year, and Elaine Paige will be evoking a few musical memories as she sings songs from some of the hit shows she’s appeared in and talks to musical theatre’s leading lights in her new series The Elaine Paige Show (Wednesday, May 14, Sky Arts 1, 8pm).
Ahead of the first show, which features a musical performance from Downton Abbey‘s Julian Ovenden, we asked for an audience with the First Lady of British Musical Theatre, who’s best known for starring in musicals such as Evita, Cats, Chess and Sunset Boulevard…
What’s more nerve-wracking, interviewing or performing?
“I’ve been a performer for 50 years, but I always worry a bit about interviewing. It’s about listening really, and on this show it’s pretty easy because I’m not out to get anyone – I’m just after a nice chit-chat really and hopefully viewers will find out some things they didn’t know about a song or a show.”
Who’s appearing on the show?
“I’ve been very fortunate to have worked with some of the absolute best people at the very top of their game in musical theatre. I have Trevor Nunn on the show, who I’ve worked with on Cats and on Sunset Boulevard. I also chat to Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, who have been huge in my career. They’ve changed the face of British musical theatre.”
Are there many differences between Broadway and West End musicals?
“Early on in British musical theatre I don’t think we as artists here realised you had to be able to sing and dance and act. In America they call it ‘the triple threat’. Also Americans as a nation are much more gregarious and outgoing and vociferous than we are, and that’s very apparent in the audience reaction. They’ve had a long love affair with musical theatre that the Brits are only just beginning to get.”
Would you say musical theatre is one of the hardest disciplines in performing arts?
“Without question. It’s much more difficult to make something believable when you’re singing. With the spoken word, there are many things you can employ as an actor to make it believable. Whereas as a singer you’ve got the music butting in all the time, which makes it more difficult. Also it takes a great deal more energy to be able to sing, dance and act.”
You mentor some young artists on the show. Would you be up for doing that on a TV talent show?
“I’m not really interested in reality television to be honest and that’s one of the reasons why I wanted to do this, to give kids from the top British drama schools a chance. It was a great pleasure for me to able to impart some of what I have learned over the past 50 years.”
What advice would you give to people starting out?
“Get a good agent – that’s what you need. And then you get out there and learn on the job.”
Do you ever get bored of singing your hit songs?
“I am of the opinion that if you have a hit or have been in a hit show and a particular song is associated with you, it’s foolhardy to dump it. Evita was a show that changed my life and I know that people still love Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina and want to hear me sing it. I feel Memory, from Cats, works better now I’ve actually lived a bit of life myself. I never tire of singing that because it’s just the most wonderful melody and brilliant lyrics married together.”
Has your celebrity been a blessing or a curse?
“I’m not so good at dealing with that side of things. Certainly when Evita happened and I was thrust into the public eye, I didn’t like it – it was a bit of a shock and it took me many years to come to terms with it. That’s why when Susan Boyle came to the fore, I so felt for her, as it’s not easy to deal with.”
Is this year’s tour really your farewell tour?
“I’m not saying I won’t do the odd concert, but my days of touring all over Australia, America and Europe are over. I want to go out while I can still just about do it.”
What’s next for you – would you like to do more straight acting?
“Well I’ve been saying that for donkey’s years and nobody casts me! But I can’t imagine never singing again – there’s always going to be music in my life somewhere down the line.”