War Paint

Nederlander Theatre, New York
2017-05-20 • 20:00

I’d seen a tryout of this new musical in Chicago last year. It has now made its way to Broadway, with the same principal cast and significantly revised book and song list.

I still have the same issue with the book: it relies on the assumption that it took fifty years for arch-rivals Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden to realise they shared more similarities than real differences. That is however obvious from the start of the play, which therefore sadly lacks any real dramatic tension while moving towards its obvious conclusion. The fact that Rubinstein was a Polish immigrant with a passion for the arts while Arden was a typical Anglo-Saxon interested in horses does little to differentiate the two characters, who were both marketing geniuses.

The show still manages to be quite pleasant, thanks to two powerhouse performances by Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole, a very pleasant score… and Michael Greif’s fluid staging in David Korins’ magnificent set. Contrary to what I remember from Chicago, the score actually picks up steam in the second act, with a series of great songs like “Fire and Ice” (whose orchestration is reminiscent of Lena Horne’s “Love” or Judy Garland’s “Come Rain Or Come Shine”) and “Pink” (the most melodic song of all — maybe my favourite).

Music by Scott Frankel. Lyrics by Michael Korie. Book by Doug Wright.
Directed by Michael Greif. With Patti LuPone (Helena Rubinstein), Christine Ebersole (Elizabeth Arden), John Dossett (Tommy Lewis), Douglas Sills (Harry Fleming), …

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