Elaine Paige’s latest concert tour is a rather special event – not only is it a 50th anniversary tour (as an incredible half century has passed by since Paige first trod the boards), but it’s also her farewell tour. There was palpable excitement tinged with an air of melancholy in the air at a packed opening night at Cardiff’s St David’s Hall where Paige took to the stage for a two and a quarter hour set of musical theatre favourites, standards and pop classics. Opening with ‘Don’t Cry For Me Argentina’ – something of a signature tune, having originated the role of Evita in Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1978 show – after a surprisingly low-key entrance on stage, Paige spoke the first few lines of that song direct to her audience as if speaking about her own life, before singing the title line and increasing the drama.

It was these glimpses of Paige the dramatic actress that were the highlights of the evening, especially her passionate rendition of ‘As If We Never Said Goodbye’, dressed as Norma Desmond, from Sunset Boulevard which saw Paige make her Broadway debut. The famous Barbara Dickson duet ‘I Know Him So Well’ was also particularly well rendered as a dramatic solo, with Paige claiming Chess as the best new score of the 1980s – some claim considering that Les Mis, Phantom and Miss Saigon date from the same decade. And Paige gave the appropriate dramatic gravitas to two numbers from Pam Gems’ Piaf, ‘Je Ne Regrette Rien’ and ‘If You Love Me’.

Musical comedy numbers were in shorter supply (surprisingly nothing from Anything Goes), but Paige’s show provided a rare opportunity to hear a new Stephen Sondheim lyric. Having starred in Follies on Broadway, Paige recalled how Sondheim heard her singing the wrong lyrics to ‘I’m Still Here’ one night, and he had written new lyrics for that song hilariously reflecting on her 50 year career, that almost brought the house down. Guest Icelandic vocalist Gardar Thor Cortes joined Paige for the ‘Perfect Year’ duet from Sunset Boulevard and produced vocally exquisite renderings of other musical numbers including Chess’ ‘Anthem’ and ‘Til’ I Hear You Sing’ from Love Never Dies. Cortes fitted into proceedings well, also allowing Paige time off stage for a multitude of outfit changes.

Paige is, of course, an artiste who has also had forays into the pop/rock world, and has fond memories of working with Freddie Mercury on a Queen album, singing ‘My Melancholy Blues’. This material isn’t generally as well suited to her voice, which is at its best on slower tempo musical ballads. An Abba song, ‘Nobody’s Side’ was too fast, losing clarity of diction, and the 8 piece band threatened to drown her out at times in these numbers too. Paige’s forays into a more jazzy sound were more successful, as she recalled listening to Ella Fitzgerald while growing up in Barnet, in an intimate arrangement of Gershwin’s immortal ‘Summertime’, and her luck at her longevity in the business in ‘Luck Be Your Lady’ from Guys and Dolls.

Of course nowadays Paige is most famous for her weekly Radio 2 show of musical theatre, EPOS, and a recording of her distinctive laughter was played alongside photographs from her career on a video screen throughout. There was obvious poignancy to this at times, and Paige herself was in reflective mode, referring to several other anniversarys that fall in this 50th anniversary year. Paige’s finale to this, her final tour, saw her return to the musicals canon with ‘Memory’, another trademark song from Cats, (initially taken at too fast a tempo by musical director and pianist Chris Egan – “it’s not a gust of wind”, Paige joked off-mic), and ‘With One Look’ from Sunset Boulevard. While Norma Desmond basked in her faded glory, Paige is one of a handful of musical stars who can command audiences as a solo artiste on the concert stage, and the ‘memories’ of the evening’s dramatic musical moments will certainly linger on.