Elaine Paige: Good Times and Bum Times

The musical theater legend looks back at a storied career, from originating the lead roles in Evita, Cats, Chess, to her latest showstopper in the acclaimed revival of Follies.



ELAINE PAIGE WITH CREDIT 01 X400 | ADVOCATE.COMIs there anything about this whole Follies experience that jumps out at you for being noteworthy? I mean after all, you are nominated for a Drama Desk Award.
You know what stands out, working with all these talented women, well, the whole cast really. There is so much experience and history on that stage. We are an eclectic bunch, there's no doubt, but we support each other. Oh, and you're a highlight darling, you're my highlight.

Oh, go on… Going back, what were some of your earlier performing jobs?
I was an urchin in the film Oliver. I cornered the market in urchin roles! I wanted to dance in the "Who Will Buy" sequence but was too short. I begged the choreographer who said to me, "If you can learn it, you can be in the number." This was amazing! I was moving up to a dancing housemaid, with a mop cap and a broom. The female dancers were all about 5' 6 and were all doing fan kicks over the head of the broom. I'm only 4' 11 1/2 so a broomstick is too tall for me. I practically killed myself, but I learned it. When I saw the film at the premier, I was so excited to see the number. To my horror, I'm on the side of the frame —cut in half. All you can see of me is one arm and one leg.

Bullying is such a big social issue here in the States and is finally getting a lot of very much needed attention. Do you have any personal stories that a young person who is dealing with being different might relate to?
Listen, I was very short, nothing's changed there. I was very flat chested, not much has changed there either. I had very frizzy hair... that definitely hasn't changed. As a child at school, I would have to pass through the boy’s playground to get to the girls playground. Run the gauntlet, if you will. It was ghastly. The boys would shout horrid names, poke sticks, and throw chalk at me. It was the dread of every school day.

Well, you know they say: what makes us different is at times our best attribute and you're a perfect example of that.
Well, my height for instance. I always thought it had gotten in my way; however, it became one of my biggest assets. Luckily for me, Eva Peron was only 5'2. If she'd been a tall woman, I might not be talking to you right now.

In musical theater, to originate an iconic role is quite an accomplishment, but to do it numerous times is like having lightning strike twice — though in your case, multiple times. What does it feel like to have musical theater students learning about you in their theater history classes?
It's amazing really. When I look back at my career, I think, how did I get so lucky for all this to happen to me. I try to always remember the lift, oh sorry, the elevator, stops on all floors going up and it stops on the same floors going down. You have to get off to help the others on. I give classes now and then, discussing character and lyrics. Basically, I try to impart some of what I've learned over the years. Of course, luck plays a huge part and I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time. Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice were writing a new style of musical, operetta really. When Evita came along I had done my work, I was prepared, I was ready—it changed my life.

Tags: Theater