Elaine Paige: big talent from a tiny singer

Written by Maria Sciullo on .

From the moment Tuesday night when Elaine Paige glided into view at the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust Cabaret at Theater Square, the diminutive stage legend exuded an elegance through her demeanor, that lovely British accent, that...

"How yinz doing?" she said cheerfully after a bluesy redition of "All That Jazz."

She had us at "yinz."

Paige, who was accompanied by pianist/arranger Christopher Marlowe, made Pittsburgh the last stop on her maiden U.S. tour.

For 90 minutes, Paige -- who originated the West End roles of Eva Peron in "Evita" and Grizabella in "Cats" -- charmed the audience in an intimate setting. Alternating a set list of hits such as "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina," "As If We Never Said Good-bye" (her Broadway debut in "Sunset Boulevard"), "Milord," and "I Know Him So Well," she looked and sounded gorgeous.

elaineThe stories she had to tell were often funny, and a little bit wicked. Her West End debut, for example, was in "Hair." To stoke her courage for the big nude scene, she said, she imbibed in a bit of weed, which resulted in her exit from the show.

Yet she endured. Paige, dressed in a flowing scarlet gown, sang her audition song for "Evita,": the Beatles' "Yesterday," and appeared to have little trouble with the challenges of songs such as "I Get a Kick Out of You" and "Easy to Be Hard," and "Hello, Young Lovers."

Early in the program, she explained that, being petite, she felt she lost out on some great roles... until "Evita" came along. A sweet ditty called "Small Packages" was written for her, and it included lyrics such as "I ask each theater-goer... set your sights a little bit lower."

She ended the tune, of course, with "a small finish."

Paige has a lovely way of storytelling. She described meeting Elizabeth, the Queen Mother years ago after a performance of "Anything Goes." Just as she went into her appropriately deep curtsy, she cramped up.

Stuck and still clutching the former queen's hand, "We both knew it could go either way. With one superhuman burst of strength, she hoists me up...."

"I thought that only happened at my age, " the Queen Mum told her.

The most incredible story, Paige saved for last. Years ago, she was listening to her car radio late at night when she heard a new song by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber. What followed involved a mangy stray cat at at her door when she arrived home, and a phone call from the composer the following day.

Yes, the offer was for "Cats," and she named her new pet "Grizabella."




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