Monday, April 17, 2017

Broadway Theater Review: War Paint

Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole. Photo: Joan Marcus
War Paint
Music by Scott Frankel
Lyrics by Michael Korie
Book by Doug Wright
Choreography by Christopher Gattelli
Directed by Michael Greif
Nederlander Theatre

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 just being young and 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 everything 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, however.)

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:

Additional casting:
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.

Additional credits:

Brian Ronan, sound design; David Brian Brown, wig design; Angelina Avallone, makeup design; Bruce Coughlin, orchestrations

-- God's name taken in vain

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play concept, "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York. Shifting from reviewing to producing, Yarger owns Gracewell Productions, which produced the Table Reading Series at the Palace Theater in Waterbury, CT. She trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Intensive and other training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run. She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She wrote reviews of Broadway and Off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (, an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She was a contributing editor for She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women. She is a former vice president and voting member of The Drama Desk.

She is a freelance writer and playwright (member Dramatists Guild of America). She is a member if the The Outer Critics Circle (producer of the annual awards ceremony) and a member of The League of Professional Theatre Women, serving as Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter. Yarger was a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2022 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women or people of a certain race are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide, or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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