One of the most highly anticipated musicals of the Broadway season premiered Thursday night at the Nederlander Theatre. David Cote of Time Out New York reviews "War Paint."
Two of Broadway’s greatest living actresses have joined forces – or rather, have gone to battle, in "War Paint." This deluxe showcase by the makers of Grey Gardens brings Christine Ebersole and Patti LuPone together on stage for the first time as larger-than-life rivals in the cosmetics industry. Diva worshipers, rejoice!
They harmonize beautifully but couldn’t be more different: Ebersole is Elizabeth Arden, empress of high-class pink, and LuPone is the Euro-chic minimalist Helena Rubenstein, fighting tooth and impeccably lacquered nail for dominance in the world of lipstick, facial creams and blush.
In Doug Wright’s historically based book, the two never actually met, even if their companies were locked in fierce competition. They stole each other’s sales and marketing men, in the form of John Dossett and Douglas Sills, they stole each other’s formulas, they even bad-mouthed each other in Congressional hearings. But they never met until well past their heydays.
What that means is a split-screen musical. One scene for Arden, one scene for Rubenstein. Such pervasive parallelism, I’m afraid, saps the work of narrative or dramatic tension.
Still, the score by composer Scott Frankel and lyricist Michael Korie is Gershwin and Irving Berlin-style pastiche of the first order, and the magnificent stars are in great voice, so you can ignore the dramatic void for a remarkably long time. Michael Greif’s glossy staging, decked out in Art Deco, is as easy on the eyes as LuPone and Ebersole are heaven to hear.
Great stars, witty songs, chic design: "War Paint" has an impressive façade. Just not much of a stunner under the makeup.