It's only natural: what's shaken the dust from Elaine Paige?

The new Carole King musical - apparently.

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Elaine Paige on Sunday
BBC Radio 2

You know something’s up when Elaine Paige plays a song by the Who (Sundays, 1pm). I tune in to her show (“Your fave songs from the West End, Broadway and Hollywood”) expecting to hear Dick Van Dyke and find instead “Pinball Wizard”, sounding as cocky as ever. Up sidles Paige at the end, awfully mellow. “Ahhhh . . . ‘Pinball Wizard’. Wiz. Wz. Wzrd . . . Have another drink, Elaine! No, I’m not on the sherry yet!” She laughs – a proper laugh. Not the sort she usually gives, modelled in the 1980s on the Disney character Goofy’s but that forces you to imagine her going home after the broadcast and flinging the cat at the fridge. Just a nice, relaxed laugh.

Then it gets even weirder. She plays Lyle Lovett. “Can’t say we often play Lyle Lovett,” she admits dreamily and explains that it’s in tribute to Julianne Moore’s turn as an early-onset Alzheimer’s sufferer in Still
. “Can’t wait to see that,” stresses Paige. Never was a lie told quite so nicely.

By now, it’s clear: something has happened to her. Something powerful has shaken the dust and ashes from her usual routine – the same songs, the same singers, the awesome repetitiveness of it all (and
I’m speaking as a fan of the show here, for reasons to do with hoping that she’s going to play Judy Garland singing “The Man That Got Away” with the Warner Bros orchestra just the once).

More often than not, Paige sounds not merely like a robot but some sort of technician, moving too seamlessly among test tubes even after both eyes have been put out. What could it possibly be? The new Carole King musical, apparently. Not my kind of thing, probably, but the equivalent of honey drunk from a jar spiked with methamphetamine hydrochloride for Paige.

“It was honest,” she finally pressed on us with a hammering heart. “It was raw. It was endearing. You’ve gotta be free to sing ‘A Natural Woman’, you know? Oh, you’ve got to be free! Let me tell you!” 

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She presents The Film Programme on BBC Radio 4. She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article appears in the 06 March 2015 issue of the New Statesman, How Islamic is Islamic State?

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