ELAINE PAIGE IN CONCERT ♥♥♥

The Royal Albert Hall.

Elaine Paige says a fond farewell to the stage in a concert that spans her amazing 50 years in musical theatre.

This is a year of extraordinary anniversaries for Elaine Paige: 10 years as a Radio 2 presenter, 30 years since the Chess album, and 50 years in musical theatre. So there’s plenty to celebrate in her farewell concert tour, ‘‘Page by Page by Paige’’, which she has announced will be her last.

The poignancy of saying goodbye – at least to the stage – is reflected in her semi-spoken ‘Don’t Cry For Me Argentina’, as she opens the show in sober black, with Evita’s plea for understanding and love from her audience. But just as we’re wondering if this is all going to be rather serious, Paige reappears in the first of several dazzling Azagury sequinned dresses, ready to unleash a stream of hits.

The songs encompass Paige’s own wide-ranging musical interests, and she chats with a quiet charm that’s almost diffidence, sharing childhood memories of listening to Gershwin (‘Summertime’), as well as some very grown-up recollections about stripping off in ‘‘Hair’’, and keeping Freddie Mercury’s enthusiasm in check as he eagerly followed her into the studio for her covers of Queen classics – a project he instigated, and which is celebrated here in a singalong ‘Radio Ga Ga’.

The show is punctuated by a big-screen slideshow where we see Elaine with friends, family, and just about every big showbiz name you can think of, helping to put the incredible span and breadth of her career into context. From the stardom that came with her lead role as Grizabella in ‘‘Cats’’, to having Sondheim write new arrangements especially for her, Elaine really has been there and done that.

It’s unreasonable to expect the purity and resonance of Paige’s voice to sound just as it did when she was first making these career-changing roles her own, and her phrasing may not always be quite as crisp. But her sheer star power propels the show, and she’s ably supported by musical director Chris Egan and the BBC Concert Orchestra.

Despite the limited stage area she’s working with, Elaine throws herself into performing her celebrated characters, most successfully as the magnificently costumed Norma Desmond, singing ‘As If We Never Said Goodbye’ from ‘‘Sunset Boulevard’’; and in the punchy defiance of  ‘I’m Still Here’ from Sondheim’s ‘‘Follies’’.

She’s joined by a guest vocalist, Icelandic star Gardar Thor Cortes, and their tender duet ‘The Perfect Year’, is sung with real pathos. Cortes – temptingly billed as the sexiest man in Iceland – also delivers the stirring ‘Anthem’, from ‘‘Chess’’, to a rapturous reception.

As she takes her final bows, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice join her on stage to pay tribute to Elaine Paige’s status as the first lady of musical theatre. And she’s justly proud to be very much ‘still here.’

First published 20 October 2014

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