Today we celebrate the birthday of one of the most well known leading ladies of the legit musical theatre era, Elaine Paige. Born Elaine Jill Bickerstaff, she changed her name at the start of her career at her acting teacher’s recommendation. Looking for inspiration, she then quite literally took a “page” from the phonebook and just added the “i”! Let’s take a look at this iconic West End lady’s shining career moments.
5. “With One Look” from Sunset Boulevard
Picking up the lead role of Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard with a two-and-a-half week rehearsal, Paige filled in for Betty Buckley who fell ill during the 1995 revival. Her brief appearance as this famous film diva on stage brought her great acclaim and gave us a very memorable rendition of the song “With One Look.” Even though Paige is a small lady (1.5m) she packed more than enough punch for this enigmatic and strong female lead, earning her the full-time role in the following year. Ms Paige is a true example of big explosives coming in small packages.
4. “Anything Goes” from Anything Goes
Paige saw the 1987 Broadway Production of Anything Goes starring Patti LuPone and knew she needed to bring the show to London. Co-producing it with Tim Rice, Paige secured her part in the role of Reno Sweeney and played opposite Howard McGillin. Looking at Paige’s performance of the titular song, one can easily understand why this show brought her a third Olivier Award nomination. With a glint in her eye, crisp and clear intentions and fire in her belly, Paige owns the stage and shows why she is one of the West End’s most beloved leading ladies.
3. “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” from Evita
Earning the spot in the titular role of the first production of Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Evita, Elaine Paige, who was then still quite unknown, shot herself into the limelight. Receiving critical acclaim for her performance and her first Olivier Award, Paige was set on her journey of West End stardom. Her performance of “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” will always remain her beautiful and impactful introduction to the West End.
2. “I Know Him So Well” from Chess
In 1984, Tim Rice and Abba’s Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson created the concept album of the hit musical, Chess. Paige originated the role of Florence Vassy in this 80s rock musical singing opposite Barbara Dickson. The two of them recorded and released the duet “I Know Him So Well” which continued to hold the number one position in the British singles charts for four weeks! This not only speaks to the genius of the score of Chess but also the mastery in which Paige and Dickson sang this beautiful song.
1. “Memory” from Cats
Finally, we come to the pièce de résistance, “Memory” from Cats. Arguably the most memorable performance of Paige (pun most definitely intended) and one which touched the hearts of millions of people and makes you understand why she is known as “The First Lady of British Musical Theatre.” Paige, of course, originated the role of Grizabella in Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats and has since remained the standard to which this role is upheld. Watching the 1998 recording of this song, you can’t help but embrace the tears that this beautiful ballad brings to your eyes and Paige’s truthful performance just seals the deal.
Elaine Paige had several other outstanding performances like Anna in The King and I, Mrs Lovett in Sweeney Todd, Carlotta in Follies and many more. She truly is the queen of the West End and has earned the title rightfully so.
Are you a fan of Elaine Paige and want to be heard? Share your most memorable moments from Ms Paige’s career in the comments section below.