Elaine Paige stopped off at The Queen’s Hall in Edinburgh for her first ever performance at this venue tonight as part of her 2017 tour itinerary. It’s not often that an audience gets to see and hear a major international performance artist like Elaine Paige in a smaller (around 900 seats at capacity) venue like this, so this was a real opportunity to enjoy a very close up and personal set.
This show of course features some of the iconic stage musical songs for which Elaine Paige is famous, but there are a lot of unexpected songs here (and I am not going to ruin that surprise by listing them all in this review). For this show, we take a reflective look down memory lane with Elaine and stop off at a few of the memorable points to her in a stellar career that anyone starting out in musical theatre and live performance can only dream of. This is Elaine Paige taking us right back to the very beginning when starting out, when her own career was founded on little but a love of words, music and dreams. Many of the songs here tonight are here because of the words and stories in them, and it is this that always attracts Elaine to a song first. That is something that I can identify easily with, and some of the greatest songwriters of the past five decades are represented here – Lennon & McCartney, Carol King, Harry Nielsen, Paul Simon, Jimmy Webb and of course Andrew Lloyd Webber, Tim Rice, Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus.
This is a personal and eclectic mixture of songs and music in this performance and if you have a singular image of Elaine Paige as a musical theatre performer then some of these songs and arrangements may or may not be to your personal tastes. Elaine Paige has had an enormously varied musical career that crosses many genres, so perhaps it is only fitting that this tour celebrates that huge diversity of musical talent and taste.
Taking to one side the “have to be there” stage musical classics, there are some real surprises here. For me, songwriters are a bit like magicians, they create something wonderful out of nothing, and one of the very best of them is Jimmy Webb, so great to hear Elaine’s version of probably one of the greatest songs ever written to the loss of what you thought was a perfect relationship knowing that you will never again have the right ingredients to make anything like it ever again – the wonderful “MacArthur Park”. Also from Jimmy Webb the hauntingly powerful “If These Walls Could Speak”. A nice surprise as well to hear Elaine’s version of Edith Piaf’s “If You Love Me (Really Love Me)”. Always an interesting song this as it is a second English re-write of Piaf’s now immortal “Hymne à l'amour” and for me, the original French lyrics (and very different to either English lyrics) are always where the real power and emotion of this song are.
At the end of the day though, I think it fair to say that the vast majority of the audience were here tonight to hear Elaine Paige recreating some of her iconic musical theatre performances, and they were not disappointed. Elaine Paige is a singer of many songs, but these songs are where something extra special happens and that star is truly lit for all to see. There is a reason why Elaine Paige is an iconic musical theatre star and these songs told everyone what that reason is. Still interesting to me though to note just how much these songs truly take on a new meaning when performed in their original musical settings, and that is in no way taking anything away from Elaine’s performance tonight. These songs come from the imagination of magical songwriters, lyricists and story tellers at their very peak and they belong in their story, but they always need someone very special like Elaine Paige to breathe true life into them on-stage.
Review by Tom King