The voice may not be what it once was, with arrangements and keys altered to avoid the high notes, but Paige has a vivacious energy and sparkling passion for performing that shines through.
What she misses in pure vocal beauty, Paige more than makes up for in expression, switching from a soaring belt to a confidential kittenish whisper to a passionate longing with ease. Singing the great songs of the musical theatre canon, Paige makes them seem fresh again, with a quality of acting through song not seen since An Evening with Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin. The decades of experience help of course, not to mention being directed and performing as part of the original productions of some of the most legendary musicals of all time.
The songs stand on their own inestimable merit, but proceedings were enhanced with some terrific arrangements and semi-theatrical stagings. Supported by New Zealand tenor Nick Kyle (more on him in a moment), Paige recreated the dramatic first entrance of Evita, continuing with a unique duet combination of “Oh, What A Circus” and “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina.”
Paige’s words of love and praise for Chess seemed like a perfectly timed show of support for the very-much-hoped-for return season of The Production Company’s sensational staging from earlier this year. Another interesting arrangement was “I Know Him So Well,” with the duet voice taken by flute.
Further classics benefitting from Paige’s depth of expression included ‘I Don’t Know How To Love Him,” “I Dreamed a Dream” and, of course, “Memory.” You may not wish to hear these songs in auditions but they sounded almost brand new here. Act one ended with a fully costumed, powerhouse performance as Sunset Boulevard’s Norma Desmond singing “As If We Never Said Goodbye.”
In a second act bracket from Piaf, Paige seemed to almost lose herself in the role. Introducing an encore after the curtain call, Paige teased the audience by discussing her 2011/12 appearance on Broadway in Follies but then singing Sunset’s “With One Look” rather than the very appropriate anthem “I’m Still Here.”
If there is a fault in Paige’s presentation, it is with her curious obsession with technical elements. as with her last appearance in Melbourne, she commeted to stage management about the amount of smoke, and worried frequently about her earpiece. This creates an unnecessary air of tension and unrest that should be eradicated at this professional level.
Paige was supported by a terrific eight-piece orchestra, led by musical director John G Smith. The stage of the mighty Palais Theatre, currently celebrating its 85th birthday, glittered with sparkly lights setting off white backcloths in front of a star cloth.
Mention must be made of the sensational Nick Kyle, who was allowed some solos, to cover costume changes, along with the duets. He impressed with John Farnham’ s “Burn for You” and the title song from Sunset Boulevard, but really took off in the second half with a sensational rendition of “Gethsemane.” Soaring, powerful top notes and strong acting ability are a combination that indicate a promising future for Kyle. We are sure to hear more of his name in the future.
Elaine Paige in Concert continues to Sydney, Canberra, Brisbane and onwards around the world.