An obsession with Chess, Benny & Bjorn’s musical with Tim Rice, has always been a major element of my ongoing ABBA fandom. So it was only logical that when Elaine Paige — who originated the central role of Florence Vassy both on record and on stage — decided to tour Australia, I would be going along.
I wasn’t expecting to get a night filled with material from Chess when I went to her first performance at the Sydney Opera House last night, and I didn’t. Indeed, my original guess that the only Chess number that we’d get would be ‘I Know Him So Well’ turned out to be almost accurate. I say ‘almost’ because a large section of the main ‘Chess’ instrumental theme was played as part of the overture — a welcome addition, but not really a performance by Ms Paige in the strict sense.
The other challenge in singing ‘I Know Him So Well’ is that it’s a duet. Elaine did an admirable performance of the song, but there’s no denying that to experience its full melodic majesty, you need the interplay of two voices. On the other hand, at least now I can say I’ve seen Elaine do Barbara Dickson’s part in concert, having already seen Dickson do Elaine’s bits during the 1997 Melbourne production of the show.
After opening with ‘Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina’ from Evita, Paige then performed ‘Another Suitcase In Another Hall’ from the same musical — a novel concept for her, since she didn’t sing it in the original stage performance. I would have loved it if she’d taken the same approach to Chess and performed ‘Someone Else’s Story’, which was only added to the musical during the Broadway production (though it now gets shoehorned into most performances). Maybe next time.
Chess obsession aside, it was a great concert, even if I was yet again in danger of being the youngest person in the audience by some margin. Over the course of a two hour show, Elaine played with a dizzying array of musical theatre styles, finishing with a version of ‘I Honestly Love You’ which she said she had “only thrown together” that afternoon. I was particularly taken with her performances of Noel Coward’s ‘Mad About The Boy’ and Edith Piaf’s ‘Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien’.
(Incidentally, if you’re concerned that the heading for this post appears to exhibit appalling grammar, it’s a direct quote from the Chess lyrics. So there.)