On London stages, Elaine Paige's reputation was heralded. Now that she has assumed the lead in Andrew Lloyd Webber and Don Black's Sunset Boulevard, a dream to play Broadway has come true. And this tiny dynamo delivers the goods.

From her teens, Paige's life has been theater. She started in a tour of The Roar Of The Greasepaint, The Smell Of The Crowd, followed by chorus jobs on the West End in Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar, then a show-stoping role in the 1974 musical Billy, starring Michael Crawford. In 1978, with her audition for Eva Peron in Evita, her life changed. She swept Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber and audiences off their feet. Her recording of "Don't Cry For Me, Argentina" became a world-wide hit. She won Best Actress in a Musical. She was Broadway bound! "Or so I was promised," said Paige. Ditto 1981, when she created Grizabella in Lloyd Webber's Cats -- and helped make "Memory" a mega-international hit; and in 1986 after her star turn in Tim Rice and Abba's Chess. With Paige's 1989 Reno Sweeney in the Anything Goes revival and her 1993 acclaimed portrayal in Piaf, it surely seemed so. "But wasn't."

In 1995 Paige was awarded the Order of the British Empire for her musical theater services. She was a talent to be reckoned with. So it was a shock when Betty Buckley left the London Sunset Boulevard to come to Broadway, and Lloyd Webber offered Paige the part. The First Lady of West End Musicals a replacement? Never! "But Norma Desmond was something I wanted to do," she said. Paige made it her own to the extent that she was nominated for the Olivier Award as Best Actress. And it -- BROADWAY - finally happened! What she did in London, she's repeating here. There's thunderous applause as she enters, bravas at the end of "With One Look," and a sustained ovation at her devastating climax of "As If We Never Said Goodbye."

Paige had seen Broadway shows, so she knew our audiences "are more volatile than English audiences. They're happy to let you know how they feel. That can be terrifying. But I'm getting this incredible response, so it lets you know what you're doing is worthwhile." Paige easily sustains daring high notes, but doesn't know her key. "With 'Memory,' which I've sung a million times, I don't have a clue to what key I'm singing in!" she laughed.

Paige's latest album (Atlantic Theater records), her 14th and the eighth to go gold, is "Encore," a compilation of her signature songs.

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Key Subjects: 
Elaine Paige, Sunset Boulevard
Writer: 
Ellis Nassour
Writer Bio: 
Ellis Nassour contributes entertainment features here and abroad. He is the author of "Rock Opera: the Creation of Jesus Christ Superstar" and "Honky Tonk Angel: The Intimate Story of Patsy Cline," and an associate editor and a contributing writer (film, music, theater) to Oxford University Press' American National Biography (1999).
Date: 
April 2000