Elaine Paige at BBC Radio 2's Voice of Musical Theatre gala final in 2006.
|Birth name||Elaine Mary Bickerstaff|
|Born||5 March 1948 (age 62)|
|Origin||Barnet, London, England|
Elaine Paige OBE (née Bickerstaff; born 5 March 1948) is an English singer and actress best known for her work in musical theatre. Raised in Barnet, North London, Paige attended the Aida Foster stage school and made her first professional appearance on stage in 1964. Her appearance in the 1968 production of Hair marked her West End debut.
Following a number of roles over the next decade, Paige was selected to play Eva Perón in the first production of Evita in 1978, which brought her to the attention of the broader public. For this role, she won the Laurence Olivier Award for Performance of the Year in a Musical. She went on to originate the role of Grizabella in Cats and had a Top 10 hit with "Memory", a song from the show. In 1985, Paige released "I Know Him So Well" with Barbara Dickson from the musical Chess, which remains the biggest-selling record by a female duo. She then appeared in the original stage production of Chess, followed by a starring role in Anything Goes which she also co-produced. Paige made her Broadway debut in Sunset Boulevard in 1996, playing the lead role of Norma Desmond, to critical acclaim. She appeared in The King and I from 2000 to 2001, and six years later she returned to the West End stage in The Drowsy Chaperone. She has also worked in film and television.
In addition to being nominated for five Laurence Olivier Awards, Paige has won many other awards for her theatre roles and has been called the First Lady of British Musical Theatre. She has released 20 solo albums, of which eight were consecutively certified gold and another four multi-platinum. Paige is also featured on seven cast albums and has sung in concerts across the world. Since 2004 she has hosted her own show on BBC Radio 2 called Elaine Paige on Sunday.
Paige was raised in Barnet, North London, where her father worked as an estate agent and her mother was a milliner. Her mother had been a singer in her youth, and her father was an amateur drummer. Paige stands at just under 5 feet (1.5 m) tall, which she says has caused her to lose out on leading roles. Her original ambition was to become a professional tennis player, at which point her headmistress pointed out to her "they'd never see you over the net", but Paige continued to play tennis and has referred to the sport as one of her passions.
At 14, Paige listened to the film soundtrack of West Side Story, which evoked the desire for a career in musical theatre. Paige's musical ability was encouraged by her school music teacher, Ann Hill. Paige's first role on stage was playing Susanna in a school production of Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro, which was followed by parts in The Boy Mozart and solos in Handel's Messiah— "a difficult work for little children". Her father suggested that she should go to drama school, so she attended the Aida Foster stage school. Lacking confidence, she initially disliked stage school; her father encouraged her to endure and she grew to enjoy her time there. After graduating, her first job was modeling children's clothing at the Ideal Home Exhibition. Prior to stage school she attended Southaw Girls' School - a secondary modern in Oakley Park in Hertfordshire where she achieved just two CSE qualifications.
Paige's first professional appearance on stage was during the UK tour of the Anthony Newley/Leslie Bricusse musical The Roar of the Greasepaint—the Smell of the Crowd in 1964, playing the role of a Chinese urchin. At the age of 20, she made her West End debut in Hair on 27 September 1968, remaining in the cast until March 1970. While also being an understudy for the character of Sheila, she played a member of the tribe in the chorus, for which role she was required to be naked on stage in one scene. She appeared very briefly as an urchin in the 1968 film Oliver!. Over the next decade, she played roles in various musicals, including Jesus Christ Superstar; Nuts; Grease, in which she played the lead role of Sandy from 1973 to 1974; Billy, from 1974 to 1975 playing Rita; and The Boyfriend, as Maisie (1975–1976).
After months of acting and singing auditions, Hal Prince offered the still relatively unknown Paige the title role of Eva Perón in the first stage production of the Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Evita. Her performance won her critical acclaim and brought her into public prominence at the age of 30. Paige was actually the second choice for the part after Julie Covington, but Covington had turned the opportunity down. For her performance in Evita, she won the Laurence Olivier Award for Performance of the Year in a Musical, the Society of West End Theatre Award for Best Actress in a Musical and the Variety Club Award for Showbusiness Personality of the Year. She played the role for 20 months in total, from 1978 to 1980. She also released her first studio album in 1978, entitled Sitting Pretty. Prior to her success in Evita, Paige had strongly considered becoming a nursery nurse, but after she sang for Dustin Hoffman, he made her promise that she would continue in theatre work.
Paige went on to portray some of Lloyd Webber's most notable female characters, creating the role of Grizabella in the original production of Cats from 11 May 1981 to 13 February 1982. She took on the role late in the rehearsal process when the actress Judi Dench had to withdraw due to a torn Achilles tendon. Paige's performance of the song "Memory" from Cats, with which she had a Top 10 hit, is her signature piece. The single reached number 5 in the UK charts and has since been recorded by a further 160 artists. She reprised the role of Grizabella for the video release of Cats in 1998, one of only two performers in the film from the original London cast. Paige's website claims that the video soon became the bestselling music video in the UK and America.
Paige had a starring role in the 1983 production of Abbacadabra, written by former ABBA members, Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson, in which she played the role of Carabosse. She then originated the role of Florence for the 1984 concept album of Chess, with lyrics by Tim Rice and music by Ulvaeus and Andersson. Her albums, Stages (1983), and Cinema (1984), rejoined the cast recording of Chess in the UK top 40 chart, giving her three consecutive successful albums. In 1985, Paige released "I Know Him So Well", a duet from Chess, singing with Barbara Dickson. The single held the number 1 position in the British singles charts for four weeks, and still remains the biggest-selling record by a female duo, according to the Guinness Book of Records. From 1986 to 1987, Paige appeared as Florence in the stage production of Chess, a role that earned her another Laurence Olivier Award nomination in the category of Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Musical. She next sang at the White House in 1988.
Paige then took on the part of Reno Sweeney in the musical production of Anything Goes, which she co-produced and starred in from 1989 to 1990. Patti Lupone was appearing as Sweeney on Broadway around that time, so Paige sought to become the co-producer of the West End production as a way to secure the role there before Lupone could take it. Playing Reno Sweeney was Paige's first experience using an American accent on stage, and the part secured her third nomination for an Olivier Award. Beyond her theatre roles, she appeared in the television programme Unexplained Laughter in 1989 alongside Diana Rigg.
In 1993, Paige signed up for a year as French chanteuse Édith Piaf in Pam Gems' musical play, Piaf, to critical acclaim. The Guardian wrote that Paige was "a magnificent, perfect Piaf". The demanding production required Paige to sing 15 songs, some in French, and to be on stage for 2 hours 40 minutes in total, and forced her to leave early due to exhaustion. Her portrayal of Piaf earned her nomination for a fourth Olivier Award for Best Actress in a Musical; she subsequently released an album, entitled Piaf, containing Édith Piaf songs.
Paige stepped into the role of Norma Desmond in Lloyd Webber's West End production of Sunset Boulevard in 1994, when Betty Buckley was ill, before taking over the part full time the following year. She then won the Variety Club Award for Best Actress of the Year, and was nominated for a best actress Olivier Award in 1996 for her performance in the musical. She then transferred to the American production to make her Broadway debut at the Minskoff Theatre on 12 September 1996, staying with the show until it closed on 22 March 1997. On the Sunset Boulevard set in Broadway, the staircase steps reportedly had to be raised six inches (15 cm) in order to accommodate Paige's short stature, or it would have been hard to see her behind the banister. Paige received largely positive reviews for her New York performance as Norma Desmond: "The lush sound and the sheer power of her voice are, to put it simply, incredible", wrote one critic, whilst another said "Her voice has great range, remarkable clarity and emotional force". Paige was the first Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard to sing one of the show's key songs, "With One Look", which she did first at Lloyd Webber's wedding to Madeleine Gurdon, although at the time the song was called "Just One Glance". Lloyd Webber noted, regarding Paige's performance of "As If We Never Said Goodbye", that it was "as good, if not the best, of anything I've ever heard". Although she had been disappointed when she hoped to perform on Broadway in Evita, Cats and Chess, Paige stated of her Broadway debut, "It was just the most perfect time to go with that particular show". After Sunset Boulevard finished, she suffered from depression, commenting that the show's closing "was the most terrible feeling. ... I'd felt I'd lost something so very important to me. I thought it had died and gone away".
Arts commentator Melvyn Bragg hosted a special edition of The South Bank Show about Paige's career in 1996, entitled The Faces of Elaine Paige. The episode saw her visiting parts of the world where plays she had starred in had been set. In 1997, Paige made her United States concert debut when she opened the Boston Pops season, which was aired on WGBH in America. The following year, she made a guest star appearance at Andrew Lloyd Webber's 50th birthday celebration at the Royal Albert Hall. During the birthday tribute show, she sang "Memory" and "Don't Cry for Me Argentina", two songs from her past musical productions by Lloyd Webber. Paige's next role was Célimène in the non-musical play Le Misanthrope in 1998, but she admitted that she missed the musical element and that the silence was slightly unsettling to her. A Lifetime Achievement Award from The National Operatic and Dramatic Association soon followed. She later performed alongside Bette Midler in a 1999 New York concert to raise money for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.
From 2000 to 2001, she starred as Anna in an acclaimed revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein's The King and I at the London Palladium. Paige had turned down an offer for the role the first time she was approached, but later accepted, admitting that she had "forgotten what a fantastic score it was", although she did question her own suitability for the role. Before the opening, the box office had already taken in excess of £7 million in ticket sales. The critic for The Independent commented, "It may well be impossible to be a success as Evita and a success as Anna", whereas The Spectator asserted that the role further strengthened her title as the "First Lady of British Musical Theatre".
Paige sang at the opening of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah, and then made her Los Angeles concert debut at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium. In 2003, she played Angèle in Where There's a Will, directed by Peter Hall. She next sang the role of Mrs Lovett in the New York City Opera production of Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd in March 2004, earning positive reviews from critics, and a nomination for a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actress in a Musical. Paige then embarked upon a UK tour which was entitled "No Strings Attached".
In September 2004, Paige began a weekly radio show, Elaine Paige on Sunday, on BBC Radio 2, featuring music from musical theatre and film. In an unfavourable review, the show was described by Elisabeth Mahoney of The Guardian as "a chilly, alienating listening experience" and a "rare wrong move" on the part of Radio 2. Lisa Martland of The Stage agreed that "it is by far the music that brings me back to the programme ... and not her lightweight presenting style". However, the show regularly attracts 3 million listeners, and interviews are also featured each week. Paige also focused on television appearances, playing Dora Bunner in the 2005 ITV adaptation of Agatha Christie's A Murder is Announced in the Marple series, before performing a guest role as a post mistress in Where the Heart Is. The episode of Marple was watched by 7.78 million viewers, and Where the Heart Is was seen by 6.34 million.
In 2006, Paige released her first full studio album of new recordings in 12 years, entitled Essential Musicals. The album included popular songs from musicals identified by a poll on her radio show, in which 400,000 listeners voted. Paige has recorded 20 solo albums in total, of which eight were consecutively certified gold and another four multi-platinum, and she has been featured on seven cast albums. More recently, she has collaborated with the duo Secret Garden in recording the song "The Things You Are to Me" for their 2007 album, Inside I'm Singing. Paige has also appeared in concert in Scandinavia, Hong Kong, Europe, the Middle East, New Zealand, Australia and Singapore. On 20 and 21 December 2006, she performed in concert in Shanghai, extending her concert tour to two dates to satisfy demand. Explaining in 2006 why she had not taken a role in a musical for many years, she stated that "there's been nothing that I've wanted to do, and if you're going to commit to a year at the theatre, six days a week, and have no life, then it's got to be something that you want to do with all your heart". She also affirmed that she believes for older actors it becomes harder to obtain theatre roles.
In 2007, Paige returned to the West End stage for the first time in six years, as the Chaperone/Beatrice Stockwell in The Drowsy Chaperone at the Novello Theatre. The production ran for a disappointing 96 performances, although it had opened to a standing ovation from the audience and a generally optimistic reaction from critics. The Daily Telegraph wrote, "Elaine Paige is a good sport ... enduring jokes about her reputation for being 'difficult' with a grin that doesn't seem all that forced. ... Only the self-importantly serious and the chronically depressed will fail to enjoy this preposterously entertaining evening". Paul Taylor from The Independent was less impressed and wrote "a miscast Elaine Paige manages to be unfunny to an almost ingenious degree as the heroine's bibulous minder". For her performance, Paige was nominated for a What's On Stage Award in the category of Best Supporting Actress in a Musical.
On 28 July 2007, Paige appeared on a special celebrity version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? with Michael Ball to raise money for charity, winning £64,000 in a combined effort. Paige danced the Tango on Sport Relief does Strictly Come Dancing with Matt Dawson in March 2008 to raise money for Sport Relief, where Paige and Dawson came second overall. She opened the Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod in July 2008, performing some of her well-known songs from her 40-year career. She next started her world tour, with dates in China, America and Australia. To celebrate 40 years since her professional stage debut, in October 2008 Paige released a picture-based autobiography entitled Memories. The book took around eight months to compile; "Since Evita I suppose, I had kept a yearbook. My parents always kept cuttings and things like that for me. I did have quite a lot of reference material to work out" Paige commented. After the Britain's Got Talent runner-up, Susan Boyle, cited Paige as her idol, they both sang a duet on the TV special, I Dreamed a Dream: the Susan Boyle Story.
Paige has neither married nor had children, although she had an 11-year affair with the lyricist Tim Rice throughout the 1980s. She has said that she wanted to have children, but "it's a wonderful life I have, so I'm very fulfilled in other ways".
During the run of Sunset Boulevard at the Adelphi Theatre in 1995, Paige discovered a lump in her breast, prompting her to consult her doctor, who at first reassured her there was nothing to be concerned about. She returned twice, and her doctor subsequently sent her for tests that confirmed the lump was cancerous, nine months after she discovered it. She continued her role in the production and stated, "When I did the show I became very emotional. Some of the lyrics suddenly took on an entirely different meaning. Words like, 'as if we never said goodbye' became more real". Paige went in for day surgery on a Sunday due to her theatre commitments, had five years of medical treatment and completed a radiation programme. She spoke for the first time of her encounter with breast cancer in a 2004 interview, and has since described the period as "the most awful thing that’s happened to me in my life". During her time in The King and I, her mother was diagnosed with cancer. Despite Paige wanting to pull out of the show, her mother insisted that she should continue until her contract had finished, and Paige's sister, Marion Billings, admitted, "That was very hard for Elaine, having to go on stage night after night knowing she wanted to be with Mum".
Paige has sometimes been described as "difficult". The Times' Brian Logan wrote, "Paige is not exactly known for her humility. In newspaper profiles, that dread word 'difficult' is often applied". On one occasion, she told a male interviewer that she was going to stop giving interviews to female reporters because, in her own words, "I don't trust other women in these situations. They establish a sisterhood with you and then betray it every time". What was perceived to be a cold side to her personality was also noted by Logan, but Paige has expressed the view that a common misconception of her is that she is confident and very serious. Another editor perceived her to be "refreshingly down-to-earth" and "very friendly".
Paige is a patron of a number of charities. She supports the Breast Cancer Care and The Lupus Trust, after being diagnosed as a Lupus sufferer in 1989. Paige has been involved with The Children's Trust for 15 years, as well as choosing one other charity to support every year, such as Red Cross. She also supports Everychild, for whom she made a publicised trip to Peru in February 2003.
Though Paige has enjoyed a long career in musical theatre, she rarely goes to watch musicals, much preferring to watch films or plays. Furthermore, she considers herself primarily an actress before a singer, stating, "I really prefer to be in character". Comparing the work of Rodgers and Hammerstein to that of Lloyd Webber, Paige has said that she finds Rodgers and Hammerstein more difficult and formal to sing, and described it as challenging. She concluded, "it's a quieter kind of singing, more controlled, not belting it out".
Paige has said of the physical demands of performing in theatre: "Musical theatre is the hardest thing any actor will ever do. You become obsessive about sleeping, eating the right food, not speaking and giving yourself vocal rest and keeping exercised". Regarding the pressure of having to be in a fit condition to perform in theatre each night, she remarked "you wouldn't want to read the letters people write when you're off and they're disappointed — it's so awful, the guilt one feels for not being there". As part of a rigorous routine before musical roles to look after her voice, Paige stops eating dairy products and drinking alcohol and also focuses on keeping fit. After about three months into the production when her voice is tiring from performing, she even gives up her social life, sometimes only communicating by notepad and fax. She also never reads her reviews from critics, finding that it is not helpful to have too many opinions.
Paige has named reality television series such as Any Dream Will Do, which aim to find an unknown actor to play the lead role in a musical, as the greatest threat to theatre today, believing that "actors already striving in the theatre wouldn't dream of putting themselves on these shows". In a later interview, she questioned the seriousness of the actors auditioning for these types of shows: "you wouldn't put yourself up for one of those shows in case you got bumped off the first week and all your colleagues saw it". She has also expressed a wish for more new musicals to be put into production, instead of frequent revivals.
|1968–1970||Hair||Member of the Tribe||Shaftesbury Theatre|
|1973–1974||Grease||Sandy||New London Theatre|
|1974–1975||Billy||Rita||Theatre Royal, Drury Lane|
|1975–1976||The Boyfriend||Maisie||Haymarket Theatre, Leicester|
|1978–1980||Evita||Eva Perón||Prince Edward Theatre|
|1981–1982||Cats||Grizabella||New London Theatre|
|1983–1984||Abbacadabra||Miss Williams/Carabosse||Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith||
|1986–1987||Chess||Florence Vassy||Prince Edward Theatre||
|1989–1990||Anything Goes||Reno Sweeney||Prince Edward Theatre||
|1993–1994||Piaf||Édith Piaf||Piccadilly Theatre||
|1994, 1995-1996, 1996–1997||Sunset Boulevard||Norma Desmond||Adelphi Theatre then the Minskoff Theatre|
|1998||Le Misanthrope||Célimène||Piccadilly Theatre||
|2000–2001||The King and I||Anna Leonowens||London Palladium|
|2003||Where There's a Will||Angèle||Yvonne Arnaud Theatre then the Theatre Royal, Brighton|
|2004||Sweeney Todd – The Demon Barber of Fleet Street||Mrs Lovett||New York City Opera||
|2007||The Drowsy Chaperone||The Drowsy Chaperone/Beatrice Stockwell||Novello Theatre||
|Year||Album title||Other notes|
|1987||Memories: The Best Of Elaine Paige|
|1988||The Queen Album|
|1991||Love Can Do That|
|1991||An Evening With Elaine Paige||Live recordings of her 1991 UK Tour|
|1993||Romance & the Stage|
|1994||Piaf||Songs featured in the musical Piaf|
|1995||Encore||Including three songs from the musical Sunset Boulevard|
|1996||Performance||Live recordings of her 1991 UK Tour|
|1997||From a Distance||A compilation of Love Can Do That and Romance & the Stage plus two tracks from the 1991 UK Tour|
|1998||On Reflection: The Very Best Of Elaine Paige|
|2004||Centre Stage: The Very Best Of Elaine Paige||Including 9 previously unreleased studio recordings and 3 live recordings|
|2009||Elaine Paige Live||Live recording made as part of Paige's tour celebrating 40 years since she first appeared in the West End|
|Year||Album title||Other notes|
|1974||Billy||Original London Cast Recording|
|1978||The Barrier: A Love Story||1978 London Studio Cast Recording|
|1978||Evita||Original London Cast Recording|
|1981||Cats||Original London Cast Recording|
|1989||Anything Goes||1989 London Cast Recording|
|2000||The King and I||2000 London Cast Recording|
|Year||Album title||Other notes|
|1998||Songs from Whistle Down the Wind||Recording of the song "If Only"|
|2000||Michael Ball - Christmas||Duet on "As Long As There's Christmas"|
|2001||Andrew Lloyd Webber — Masterpiece||Live recording of concert at the Great Hall of the People, Beijing, China.|
|Year||Album title||Other notes|
|1985||Lyrics by Tim Rice||Performances of "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" and "I Know Him So Well"|
|1991||Elaine Paige in Concert||Live recording at the Birmingham Symphony Hall of 1991 concert tour|
|1998||Andrew Lloyd Webber — Celebration||Live performances of "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" and "Memory"|
|2001||Andrew Lloyd Webber — Masterpiece||Live performances of "Don't Cry for Me Argentina", "The Heart is Slow to Learn", "Memory", "The Perfect Year", "As If We Never Said Goodbye", "No Matter What" and "Ni Yong You Wo De Wei Lai — Friends for Life" (The Chinese translation of "Amigos Para Siempre")|
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She worked in the theatre from a young age. She quickly became famous in the role of Eva Peron in the musical Evita in 1978. She studied acting at the Aida Foster stage school in London and then played roles in the British tour of the show The Roar of the Greasepaint, the Smell of the Crowd and the first London production of Hair. She played Sandy in the London production of Grease and appeared as one of Michael Crawford's girlfriends in Billy. She has since said she was about to leave the world of acting, possibly to become a teacher, but then the role in Evita was offered to her.
After Evita, she did not have any work for a period, and she thought that her musical career had seen its best. When the actress Judi Dench had an injury during rehearsals for Cats, the producers asked Paige play the role in stead of Dench. They stated that the role "was not another Evita" and that her role only had one and a half songs. Fortunately, the song was "Memory", which was a top 10 hit for Paige and has become her signature song.
After Cats, she appeared in Abbacadbra, an ABBA compilation, and Chess, also written by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus of ABBA but with lyrics by Tim Rice, co-writer of Evita. Paige then scored a number 1 single, "I Know Him So Well", a song from Chess, as a duet with Barbara Dickson.
In 1989, she co-produced and starred in a production of Cole Porter's Anything Goes in London, which made a star of John Barrowman. In the early 1990s, her term relationship with the lyricist Tim Rice stopped and Paige tried an image change by recording an album with a California-based producer in the Bette Midler torch singer vein entitled Love Can Do That. Her solo albums had so far been a variety of songs, including the very successful Stages in 1983, with songs from musical theatre. In 1993, she returned to the United States to work with Peter Matz on an album called Romance and the Stage featuring songs from earlier days of musical theatre. The following year, she recorded, Piaf, which had music from the role she was playing in the Pam Gems play, also called Piaf. Critics were impressed by her acting skills in that play.
However, in 1995 she had a role in another musical, playing Norma Desmond in Andrew Lloyd Webber's Sunset Boulevard. She had always wanted to perform on Broadway and Sunset Boulevard now made this possible. For more than a year she played the role. She later had another role in 2000 with the King and I. She has recently moved more into television and radio work.