- Sandy in Grease (1973, New London Theatre)
- Eva Perón in Evita (1978, Prince Edward Theatre)
- Grizabella in Cats (1981, New London Theatre)
- Florence Vassey in Chess (1986, Prince Edward Theatre)
- Reno Sweeney in Anything Goes (1989, Prince Edward Theatre)
- Édith Piaf in Piaf (1993, Piccadilly Theatre)
- Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard (1994, 1995, 1996, Adelphi Theatre, Minskoff Theatre)
- Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2004, New York City Opera)
Awards and Nominations
- Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actress in a Musical (Evita)
- Society of West End Theatre Award for Best Actress in a Musical (Evita)
- Variety Club Award for Showbusiness Personality of the Year
- Rear of the Year Award
- Variety Club Award for Recording Artiste of the Year (Chess)
- Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actress in a Musical (Chess) (Nomination)
- Head of the Year Award
- Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actress in a Musical (Anything Goes) (Nomination)
- Gold Badge of Merit Award BASCA
- Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actress in a Musical (Paif) (Nomination)
1994 - 1997
- Variety Club Award - Best Actress of the Year
- Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) Queen's Birthday Honours
- Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actress in a Musical (Sunset Boulevard) (Nomination)
- HMV Lifetime Achievement Award
- Lifetime Achievement National Operatic and Dramatic Association
- Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actress in a Musical (Sweeney Todd) (Nomination)
- What'sOnStage Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Musical (The Drowsy Chaperone) (Nomination)
- Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical (Follies) (Pending)
Diva Talk: 8 Grizabellas, Including Betty Buckley and Elaine Paige, Share Their "Memory"s - Playbill.com, Sept 2016.
Olivier winner Paige created the role in the original 1981 London production.
How long did it take you to get into full Grizabella makeup each night?
EP: Grizabella is played as a kitten in the first scene and then as the old bedraggled glamour cat. Both makeups were by the costume and makeup designer John Napier. The younger makeup for the first scene took the most time, about an hour, because it was more defined and precise with stronger colors—the pouting red ruby lips were clean and distinct. And then for older Grizabella, I would basically smudge the entire makeup, pulling down one corner of the red of the lips, darkening under the eyes, fading down the color and adding lines and furrows to make her look older, bedraggled and careworn. The beauty spot was something I suggested to John as I thought it was a witty human touch to suggest a femme fatale—a small reminder of her past glamour. On with the wig and voila!
What is the pressure/challenge like of having to deliver “Memory,” the vocally demanding song everyone waits for all evening?
EP: Originally singing “Memory” was a feat of memory! Each night during previews I had to grapple with a different lyric. Tim Rice, Don Black, Richard Stilgoe all tried their hand until Trevor Nunn’s original lyric, inspired by lines from T. S. Eliot’s “Rhapsody on a Windy Night,” prevailed. “Memory” is the climatic 11 o’clock number. It’s a long lonely wait to perform it. The pressure builds as you’ve only one moment to shine. I needn’t have worried; “Memory” always brought the house down. Since then I’m told more than 150 artists have recorded it, but as the original Grizabella I’m possessive, and I still see it as my signature.
Was there any one performance of “Memory” that stands out in your mind as your best ever?
EP: Fourteen years later, in 1995, I was asked to perform at the Royal Albert Hall, in London, to celebrate Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 50th birthday, and it was to be filmed. I had a gown designed especially for the occasion, and disastrously it didn’t arrive until minutes before I had to walk onstage. I was literally sewn into the dress whilst waiting in the wings. My heart was thumping in my chest, no time to compose myself. The sheer fear and panic caused me to sing out of my skin! It’s a performance I will never ever forget.
What was the most memorable onstage Cats mishap—either your own or by a fellow cast member?
EP: The mishap I remember, one particular night, was my ascent to the Heaviside Layer. It started as normal, standing with Deuteronomy on the enormous tire. As it rose, the trouble began. Dry ice mixed with excess smoke from a faulty machine swirled continuously around us like a thick London fog. I couldn’t see my “paw” in front of my face. Precariously and with as much dignity as I could muster, I mounted the narrow “stairway to heaven.” Each step less than the width of my tiny feet became more and more indistinguishable. Normally waiting at the top, out of sight, would be the stage manager to offer out his hand, but I couldn’t see him either. Only disaster beckoned! I missed my footing on the top step and was about to plunge more than 30 feet when suddenly from nowhere, as if by magic, his hand appeared, grabbed me and winched me from certain death onto the gantry. It’s true a cat does have nine lives—I certainly used up one that night!
Why do you think the musical has endured?
EP: It’s endured because of the original concept and design. It’s a spectacle of costumes, scenery and choreography—something the like of which had never been seen on stage before. Completely unique. It changed the face of musical theatre. It’s purr-fect!
What version of “Memory”—other than your own — do you admire?
EP: As I said earlier, with well over 150 versions of “Memory” out there, it would be a difficult choice, and having sung it over a thousand times myself, it would be a busman’s holiday. Taxi!
- Due to her large number of roles, she is often referred to as the First Lady of British Musical Theatre.
- Elaine Paige stepped in as "Grizabella" 5 days before the first preview performance of the original production.