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Elaine Paige has been present in the in the world of the modern musical theatre for almost 30 years. During that time she has also made numerous solo albums. Although we had an opportunity to hear some of the songs from the musicals she starred in over the years, in 1995, when she released her "Encore" album, only with this 2-CD deluxe compilation can we get the proper insight into Elaine's fascinating career. But before I give you my impressions of this CD, a few words have to be said about Ms. Paige's achievements.
After her training in Aida Foster Stage School in London, she started performing in the musical theatre with small roles. In 1971 she appeared in the musical "Maybe That's Your Problem" (by Walter Scharf, Lionel Chetwynd, and Don Black). By this time she had already had a small part in the London production of "Hair"and went on to appear in "Jesus Christ Superstar" (1973, Andrew Lloyd Webber) before landing her first leading role, as Sandy in "Grease" (1973, John Farrar, Bill Oakes, Louis St Louis). After appearing in "Billy" (1974, John Barry) she attempted, with less success, to pursue a straight acting career. Her big breakthrough came in 1978, when she was chosen to play the lead in Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's "Evita". The show was an instant success and Elaine became a star overnight. For her wonderful performance as Eva Peron she won several awards (Society of West End Theatre Award for Best Actress in a Musical and the Variety Club Award for Showbusiness Personality of the Year). In 1981 Elaine stared in the original London production of Lloyd Webber's "Cats" as Grizabella, coming in as a last-minute replacement for the injured Judi Dench, and thus being the first person to perform the classical song "Memory". Ms Paige has revisited this role in the television film and video of "Cats" which was released in 1998 and went straight to the top of the video charts becoming the best selling music video ever in the UK and America. In 1983 Elaine starred as Carabosse in the London production of "Abbacadabra" written by Abba's Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson and she sang their work on stage for a second time in the original production of "Chess" (Prince Edward Theatre, London), when they collaborated with Tim Rice in 1986. Her single from the show's score "I Know Him So Well", a duet with Barbara Dickson, held the number one position in the British charts for four weeks, and still remains the biggest selling record by a female duo in the Guinness Book of Records. In 1989 Ms Paige starred in and co-produced the smash hit Lincoln Centre, NY production of "Anything Goes" in London's West End directed by Jerry Zaks and for this she was nominated for an Olivier Award for Outstanding Performance of the Year by an Actress in a Musical. In 1993 she received critical acclaim for her performance as Edith Piaf in the musical play by Pam Gems entitled "Piaf" which also led to a nomination for an Olivier Award for Best Actress in a Musical and an album of Piaf songs. In 1996 Ms Paige made her Broadway debut in the role of Norma Desmond in Lloyd Webber's "Sunset Boulevard" at the Minskoff Theatre. She joined the company following her outstanding performance as Norma in London which gained critical acclaim, the Variety Club of Great Britain Award for Best Actress of the Year and a nomination for an Olivier Award for Best Actress in a Musical. From 2000-2001 she appeared in Rogers and Hammerstein's "The King and I", and lastly, in 2004, as Mrs. Lovett in Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd" in New York, to much critical acclaim. During all that time she recorded more than 10 solo albums. In 1995 Ms Paige was awarded the Order of the British Empire by Her Majesty the Queen for services to musical theatre.
As you can see, it has been a rich and colourful career for Elaine. This compilation captures most of it. We can hear not only her biggest successes from the roles she played in the musicals, but also we witness her best songs taken from her many solo albums, plus two new songs and previously unreleased live performances. Here are some of my personal favourites:
1. "Something in red" is a new track. Wonderfully made, especially the use of saxophone. Elaine's voice is the best in the last part of it, when she gives all its strength into the song.
2. "Memory" from "Cats": this is THE DEFINITE version, from the 1998 movie version. Elaine's voice has matured since the 1981 original cast recording and it shows. Also, this version has the biggest (80-piece) orchestra. Exceptional.
3. "I know him so well" from "Chess" is beautiful both in music and lyrics. Elaine and Barbara Dickson's voice blend perfectly and Tim Rice's lyrics about a woman's re-examination of her relationship will move you.
4. "Miss you nights" and "Let it be" are Elaine's duets with Cliff Richard, recorded live. Wonderful orchestrations and their voices together feel very warm.
5. From "Piaf" there are 6 songs, which Elaine delivers in the perfect French. In no other songs is her voice so strong, especially in "Mon dieu". She must have been brilliant in this role.
6. "Change the world" and "From the heart" are nice pop pieces from Elaine's albums; I like them especially because of their back vocals and the guitar use.
7. "Cry me a river" is a unique live performance here. Elaine vocal pirouettes send shivers down your spine and the orchestral lead takes a beautiful melody in the half of this song.
8. From "Evita" come "Don't cry for me Argentina" and "Another suitcase in another hall". I like all the three ladies (without Madonna, who is ok for me only in Evita) who recorded "Don't cry for me Argentina" and sung the whole score: Julie Covington, Elaine and Patti LuPone, because every one of them brought something new to this part. Elaine's rendition here is the strictest of the three; only at the beginning is her voice gentle. "Another suitcase in another hall" has a completely different orchestration here and I like the original better.
9. Even though Elaine didn't appear in "Les miserables" she recorded two songs from that musical: "I dreamed a dream" and "On my own". They show how wonderful Fantine or Eponine would she be.
10. "Somebody makes me laugh" is a favourite because of the lovely refrain and the strong back vocals.
11. "Sunset Boulevard" is represented by "With one look", "As if we never said goodbye" and "The perfect year". Elaine is not my most favourite Norma Desmond; I consider Patti LuPone to be vocally the fittest and with the right amount of passion, but Elaine's interpretation is also fine, especially when compared to the awful performance Glenn Close gave in this musical.
12. "Alfie" is a short and pretty little song from to me unknown movie of the same title. Elaine at her gentle voice.
13. And finally, "Kind to animals" is one of the new songs Elaine made in 2004. It's a very modern form of pop with another awesome use of saxophone. It just proves that Elaine is perfectly adjusting to the new trends in music.
You have to remember that there are totally 38 songs on the 2 CDs, so there are plenty more wonderful pieces besides the ones I mentioned above. I must point out the excellent sound quality here: the CDs have been digitally remastered and the sound is crystal clear, even more so, if you compare the quality of the same songs here and on the "Encore" album. The CD has a very nice jacket package and it comes with the appropriate booklet. The latter contains Elaine's new photographs and a promotional text about her career in the musicals, backed up with Elaine's comments.
All things considered, this CD is for all Elaine's fans who want to have the very best from her long achievements in the musical theatre and her solo recordings. Apart from the good songs, it is also a well made edition. Buy it as a proof of your own good taste.