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Elaine Paige In Concert: The Alban Arena.

November 29, 2017

(seen at the evening performance on 26th November 2017).

The words “plus support” on a ticket always give me the dreads, as you can’t take the risk (as the people in front of me did) that the “support act” will provide the first half –meaning you can arrive at the interval and not miss the headliner you actually paid to see. It’s a safe bet that if you pull that one, then it’ll be one of those shows where the star opens, the support act covering a couple of times during the evening.

Here, the first half hour consisted of Musical Director John G Smith and his band demonstrating just why current “X-Factor” finalist Grace Davies is a rare find indeed. Horrible acoustics reduced able musicians to a tinny sound that persisted throughout the evening… but really, a quartet of original songs (with some soupy lyrics) and a dodgy Billy Joel orchestral didn’t do much to soften the atmosphere for the star’s arrival.

Around 55 minutes after the show began, the First Lady of British Musical Theatre finally arrived – and proceeded for the next 80 or to demonstrate just why she still has absolute hold on that title.

The final concert in a 19 date UK tour, faced with a flat audience aching for her to “get on with it,” every ounce of experience, personality and that unique “star power” were unleashed – and the well-deserved thaw began.

Being honest, I was expecting a standard “song book” – shows she had been in, a little chat. Instead, this was a far more personal exploration of the music that shaped her inner world.

Plenty of Jimmy Webb – “If These Walls Could Speak” – coupled with a phenomenal (and little known) Carly Simon number “Two Sisters” being a highlight. There were also touches of Bacharach, “Beautiful” Carol King and even a quick nod to Bread and Fleetwood Mac (“Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow”).

Particularly effective were Paul Simon’s “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover,” complete with a very decent story about how he left her. Also notable was a Beatles “Sgt Pepper” medley, with an infectious energy and highly unexpected ending. A youngster with learning difficulties approached the stage to welcome Ms Paige to St Albans on behalf of us all. An interruption taken with the greatest grace and compassionate kindness possible by the star, and indeed the venue staff.

Of course, what everybody was waiting for were her showstoppers. Her half of “I Know Him So Well” showed up at 8.55pm or so, and frankly sounded slightly odd without the second vocal. For “Memory” and “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina,” though, the wait was until the encore – and both were worth it. Clearly much thought had gone into the particular arrangements, and as a closer, “Argentina” has plenty going for it.

Support act aside, perhaps the only other gripe was the organisation of the songs. From reviews of other concerts in this tour, it’s clear that Paige shuffles her deck every night – a bold and very wise decision to keep herself fresh. The only problem is that it doesn’t always leave the clearest path for the audience to follow. Luckily, her personality (and that laugh – yes, same as the radio show) is sufficient to keep us on-side for the long haul.

Shorter than one might expect (the show, not the performer, that is already widely known and deserves no further mention) but pretty satisfying, as a final night of a long tour, celebrating a long and glorious career with warmth and new interest, this is about as good as it gets.

 

4 stars.

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