Elaine Paige talks CHESS with Broadway World

PC: Could you tell me about your experiences with CHESS?

EP: It was pretty amazing. You know, Tim Rice had wanted to write a musical for me for some time. First came BLONDEL about King Richard the Lionheart and British history… but I didn’t become particularly involved in that. Then he came up with the idea for CHESS and started having meetings and talks with Benny and Bjorn of ABBA. I heard some of the original demos for some of the tunes that they were putting forward to write lyrics for and I was just blown away by the melodies. I remember thinking what an amazing show this was going to be and how much I wanted to be a part of it. So, very early on in the process of writing the show, I accompanied Tim Rice to Stockholm in those early days – long before it became the wonderful show that is – and we would go there and work in the studio with Benny and Bjorn and Tommy Korberg who played the Russian originally on the album.

We would bat around different ideas in terms of Tim’s lyrics and Benny and Bjorn’s music and we would just try out different keys and play around with lyrics and see which character might be singing what lyrics and whether songs would be solos or duets and so on. So it evolved. At least, you know, to see this work in progress from its very beginnings. It was one of the most exciting times ever, really, for me in musical theatre because I had never ever watched or been involved in that process ever before in musical theatre.

It was very, very exciting indeed, as you can imagine. Indeed, some of the early music was for a song called "When the Waves Roll Out To Sea". That was just – when I heard that tune I just knew I had to be involved with the production. In fact, it was one of the tunes that eventually got dumped from the original production – it never made it! It always amazes me how fantastic that tune is and it never made it. Such a brilliant song never got to be in the show.

PC: Are there any other ABBA songs you’d like to do? I’d love to hear you do "You Have To Be There" from KRISTINA.

EP: That’s a fantastic song, isn’t it? It is something I’d like to do. But, at the moment, I’m just about to embark on a new album – which has nothing to do with musical theatre – so, I might have to put it on the back burner for awhile. I might want to do it in concert, but, certainly, in terms of recording, I don’t think I’ll be able to do it this time around. Indeed, it’s a brilliant song. What I love about their work is that it is so emotionally charged, their melodies. You know, Benny, the music just sort of tumbles out of him, these dramatic ballads. There’s something rather operatic about them in their intensity, in the means of, from the bottom end of the register to the top. A bit like in Andrew Lloyd Webber in some ways – but, slightly more modern. That’s what I love about their work, it’s like modern opera really.

PC: What did Andrew Lloyd Webber think of CHESS?

EP: I don’t know. I don’t know what he was doing at the time, PHANTOM or something. Also, LES MISERABLES was another show I was asked to do during that time and I had to turn that down because I had already committed to CHESS. For me, CHESS was the score the 80s. I think it’s the most amazing score in modern musical theatre. It’s one of the great musical theatre albums.

PC: Did you enjoy the success of the concept album? "One Night In Bangkok" was even a hit in the US and, of course, your duet with Barbara Dickson – "I Know Him So Well" – still holds the record for the number one female duet.

EP: "Bangkok" is fantastic but "I Know Him So Well" never made it in America, but it made it everywhere else in Europe and everything, really. Barbara Dickson enjoyed the success of being #1 here and in Scandinavia but it never translated to American audiences in the same way. But, it’s still in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the longest running female duet – it was sixteen weeks at #1 here.

Elaine Paige – ‘InDepth InterView’


  • As her duet with Susan Boyle proved and seeing her in the short lived (sadly) Drowsy Chaperone show in the UK have to say her voice is not what it was so hopefully "You have to be there" will be recorded by someone who has the voice and the status to make it the international classic it deserves to be rather than the classic a few of us know about.

  • Elaine says that I Know Him So Well was number one for 16 weeks in the UK.

    Try 4 weeks Ms Paige – you fibber!

  • I don?t remember I Know Him So Well being no one for 16 weeks either! I think she is confusing it with Everything I Do I Do It For You from Robin Hood Prince of Thieves.

    I Know Him So Well was a brilliant No. 1 though.

  • I think it was the number of weeks it was in the top 40 charts

  • I think that may be right.

  • According to the ABBA Worldwide Charts Lists website, it was indeed in the charts for a sixteen week run. With a four weeks at the top.

    So I’ll let her off this time. at I am

    I never understood why Nobody’s Side was not a massive chart hit. It’s such a good song. The lyrics are so true to life. I used to stand in the wing at the Prince Edward and sing a long with Elaine live – when I was on the crew there on CHESS. Sad person that I am.

  • I saw Miss Paige live last year and I can tell you she was in excellent voice. When she sang With One Look, I was amazed how strong her voice still is. I did not think she sounded her best on the Boyle show, but in concert..Still WOW from me.

  • I saw Elaine Paige both in The Drowsy Chaperone and in concert last year and I fully agree with bronx, her voice was brilliant and her performance outstanding. Besides delivering songs from Sunset Boulevard beautifully, one of the highlights was "If you love me" from the musical PIAF, which simply brought the house down. She can still do it!!!

  • As both an ABBA and EP fan I agree with bronx, I saw Elaine in concert two nights just a few months ago and she was fantastic. True her voice has lost some clarity on the higher notes (yet she still sings them in the same key!) but her middle range is as strong as ever and makes up for it. It was a true delight to listen to her.
    The voice drops with age and use of course, and considering how much use EP’s voice has had, doing 8 shows a week for years, it’s amazing it’s still so strong.

    That Subo show was admittedly not one of her best performances as she was obviously more concerned with coaxing Susan and not overshadowing her than singing herself. Don’t think you should judge her by that performance.

    As for IKHSW being number one for 16 weeks, she keeps repating that in interviews, she’s just mixed up the facts a bit. Someone should kindly tell her so… 🙂

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