Elaine Paige: a gentle Farewell

By the time you reach 70, you’re entitled to slow down a little. Not that Elaine Paige was ever the highest-octane performer, but last night’s show at Auckland’s Bruce Mason Centre was a genteel, polite affair, a chance for Paige, bringing her Farewell Tour to Auckland after a quick trip down to Christchurch, to share some of her favourite music with a crowd who had clearly grown up, and were in some cases starting to grow old, with the songs she chose.

It was, inevitably, a low-key event. With the John G. Smith Band, a five-piece jazz-ish combo, behind her, she took a pleasant, agreeable — not challenging, not groundbreaking, but very nice — trip through both her career and her record collection, a few samples of which she brought with her, showing a taste in music more catholic than we might previously have suspected. So we heard Bread’s Guitar Man, close behind a jazzier, bluesier reading of the Carole King song One Fine Day and a pleasingly snappy Fifty Ways To Leave Your Lover.

And there were stories. Fifty Ways followed what could have been a cloyingly, horribly awkward luvvy anecdote about having dinner with Paul Simon, but while some singers (the low-water mark here remains Stevie Nicks) descend into self-indulgent “look at how many famous friends I have” pretension, Paige — as did Lulu a couple of years ago, or Paul McCartney when he came to Mount Smart Stadium a couple of Christmases back — manages to keep her stories, of recording I Know Him So Well in a different country from Barbara Dickinson, of smoking joints and listening to records through her Tannoy speakers, personal and engaging.

But a singer’s show is all about the singer and her voice. And at 70, Elaine Paige simply cannot be expected to sound the way she did when she was Eva Perón in Evita, forty years ago. Her voice has settled down a tad into the lower registers, but it still has its silky warmth, and when she plays the inevitable hits, when she pulls out Memory, from Cats, or Don’t Cry For Me Argentina, when she remembers that, whatever else she may have been, she’s in the end one of the best interpreters of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s best, earliest material, the beauty and power of her voice finally come out to play and we’re reminded of why, fifty years into her career, she’s still held in such high regard by her fans.

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