|Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole. Photo: Joan Marcus|
Music by Scott Frankel
Lyrics by Michael Korie
Book by Doug Wright
Choreography by Christopher Gattelli
Directed by Michael Greif
By Lauren Yarger
Cosmetic moguls Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden take off their gloves and get into a colorful fight to the finish to dominate the world of convincing women that they need a lot of products to be beautiful in War Paint, a new Broadway musical by composer Scott Frankel (Grey Gardens, Far from Heaven).
There are no ugly women, Rubinstein tells us. Only lazy ones.... Ultimately the women have to wrestle with the question of whether their efforts have improved women's lives or enslaved them.
The actresses starring as the makeup mavens are no powder puffs themselves: Patti LuPone as Rubinstein and Christian Ebersole as Arden. Frankel's score sounds as though it were written just for them offering many showcase numbers (perhaps a few too many in the two-hour, 35-minute production) with soaring belts for the actresses to show off what they can do. Ebersole, particularly, shines. Lawrence Yurman Music Directs the big-band, jazzy score.
The book by Pulitzer-Prize winner Doug Wright (I Am My Own Wife, Grey Gardens, Hands on a Hardbody) follows the women from their beginnings in 1935 to the height of their success and into their fading glory by 1964 when the keys to beauty -- according to Arden, purity, grace and everlasting youth -- switch to being a teenager. He offers focused developments in the women's careers with appropriate back story when needed and doesn't fall into the trap of trying to include every thing that ever happened in their lives, though the second act needs some polish. The lyrics by Michael Korie (Grey Gardens and Far From Heaven) are clever and key in the storytelling. The story is inspired by "War Paint" by Lindy Woodhead and "The Powder and the Glory" by Carol Grossman and Arnie Reisman.
The creative team applies a sensory-appealing foundation. Designer Catherine Zuber works her usual magic providing flashy, elegant costumes to help make the time transitions. She also skillfully dresses the two women similarly, reminding us that while they are competitors with different backgrounds -- Rubinstein is an immigrant Jew and Arden is a Canadian prairie girl who longs to be a society belle -- at the core they are the same, even if they don't realize it. (Sometimes LuPone's heavy accent makes her difficult to understand.)
David Korins provides a deco-inspired backdrop set covered with images of cosmetics bottles allowing set and mood changes prompted by Kenneth Posner's Lighting Design. Christopher Gattelli's subtle choreography allows the numbers to fit naturally into the storytelling.
Adding to the quality of the production, getting a fine treatment from director Michael Greif (Dear Evan Hansen, Next to Normal and Grey Gardens), are creamy supporting performances. Broadway vet John Dossett plays Arden's cuckolded husband Tommy Lewis who grows tired of taking a back seat to his boss wife. He wants a title for all of the work he contributes to Arden. He is jealous of Harry Fleming (Douglas Sills of Scarlet Pimpernel fame), Rubinstein's closeted gay vice president of sales.
Fleming also has problems with his boss, especially when Rubinstein fails to compensate him adequately for the idea of selling the same beauty cream in 'day" and "night" versions and doubling sales. In an unbelievable twist, the men jump ship and end up working for the competitors of the companies they helped build, sharing company secrets and fueling the feud between Rubenstein and Arden in the process.
Finding his own color palette in the midst of the feuding, fading makeup magnates is Charles Revson (Erik Liberman), who goes on to found his own competing company, Revlon.
Rubinstein and Arden put on their War Paint at the Nederlander Theatre, 208 West 41st St., NYC. Performances are Tuesday at 7 pm, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 pm, Wednesday and Saturday at 2 pm and Sunday at 3 pm. Tickets are $79 -$250: warpaintmusical.com.
Barbara Jo Bednarczuk, Patti Cohenour, Mary Ernster, Tom Galantich, David Girolmo, Joanna Glushak, Chris Hoch, Mary Claire King, Steffanie Leigh, Barbara Marineau, Donna Migliaccio, Stephanie Jae Park, Jennifer Rias, Angel Reda and Tally Sessions.
Brian Ronan, sound design; David Brian Brown, wig design; Angelina Avallone, makeup design; Bruce Coughlin, orchestrations
-- God's name taken in vain