Manchester Theatre Awards

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Q&A with musical royalty, Elaine Paige

Britain’s Queen of musical theatre, Elaine Paige is back on the road with a brand new show, Stripped Back. She chats to Carmel Thomason ahead of her stop at Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall.

In this show you celebrate contemporary songwriters from the huge musical numbers of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber that you've become synonymous with to Lennon and McCartney. With such a huge catalogue to choose from how did you compile the final set list?

I was making an album in New York with the late legendary producer Phil Ramone and he asked me who my favourite artists were and listing quite a few I finished with Harry Nilsson, Randy Newman and Jim Webb and I thought as I said it that sounds rather good – Nilsson, Newman & Webb.  So they were really my inspiration for the concerts – I looked back to that period in my life, the 60’s and 70’s, when I was listening to a lot of music.

How has your response to the songs and how you perform them changed at different stages of your life?

I’ve always been a fan of lyrics, in fact it was Jim Webb’s work way back then that made me start to take notice of lyrics and the stories behind them. So lyrically some of the songs I sing have taken on new meaning. Memory for example has taken on a completely new meaning to me now that I’m older.

Can you describe the moment when you first knew that you wanted to follow a career on the stage?

I think it must have been when my school staged The Boy Mozart, an operetta based on the composer’s life and work.  I sang the mezzo role, Bastienne, from the opera Bastien and Bastienne, the first of many emotional songs that have shaped my career.  When I sobbed at the end of the aria the audience gasped.  They thought I’d forgotten my lines!  Didn’t they know I was acting!  My father did, though, and duly asked “Would you like to go to drama school?”  A dream come true! I could hardly believe it.

Which people have influenced you most in your life and why?

I’ve been lucky enough to work with so many talented people, some of the very best. Such a privilege.  And I’ve made so many good friends who have supported me and encouraged me whom I love. So to pick out just a few would be unfair.

Who continues to inspire you today?

I try and go and see as much as I can – theatre, concerts, films. I read a lot and I’m always making lists of songs, ideas, etc.  There isn’t really one specific person or thing that inspires me I just see things that gets my brain ticking!

For The Elaine Paige Show on Sky Arts you took on a mentoring role for students. It's a wonderful opportunity for the students to get the benefit of your experience but what, if anything, have you learned from the students?

I love their enthusiasm, their joie de vivre, their determination and lack of fear. I think once you start to perform and hone your craft you are far more aware of the pressures that come with that. You have to apply oneself.  Everything takes a lot of hard work, drive and energy to make sure you give 100%. Nothing worth having comes easily. As Bette Davis said “No guts, no glory.”  

Two years ago you celebrated 50 years on the stage. What is your secret for a long-standing career in the competitive world of show business?

I think you have to try new ideas all the time. I’ve always love diversity and made an effort to try different things to challenge myself. It’s been an incredible journey and I’ve been lucky enough to go down many roads and in many different directions.

Is there anything you'd like to do career wise as a one off just for the fun of doing it?

I’d love to play Margo Channing in a stage or TV production of ‘All About Eve” – I love that film and Bette Davis is my all time favorite movie actress.  It would be such great role and fun to do.

Is there anything else you'd like the audience to know before they come along to the show?

Well that we have a bunch of classic songs from some wonderful composers such as Bacharach & David, Lennon & McCartney, Carole King, Jim Webb that they will hopefully love, interspersed with some of my hits and some stories and anecdotes about my life and career.

Thank you, Elaine. I, for one, can’t wait.

Elaine Paige Stripped Back is a series of weekend concerts from October to December 2016. She comes to The Bridgewater Hall on Saturday October 8. Visit www.Elainepaige.com for details.

Carmel Thomason