Recommended *** The long anticipated opening has arrived. The Broadway bound musical, “War Paint” with a book by Doug Wright and music by Scott Frankel and lyrics by Michael Korie has opened at The Goodman Theatre on its journey to Broadway. This biography ( with poetic license to be sure) of two amazingly powerful women in the business world, Helena Rubinstein ( played to perfection by Patti Lupone) and Elizabeth Arden (gloriously brought to life by Christine Ebersole) , who brought us glory in the color “pink” ,takes us back to a time when women were not running businesses and in particular cosmetics and make-up. Both of these women were motivated to reach new heights and to help other women recognize that they had more in them, if only they could show the world.
They were both devoted to their dreams and their companies. Both were strong competitors who would do all that they could to beat the other, never having in reality done so. In this production, they have taken some poetic license to bring the play to an end by having both of these ladies, at the close of their careers be a speaker for a women’s group. They are both present waiting to be the “keynote speaker” and for the first time are face to face. During the well directed (Michael Greif) story, we do see them in booths next to each other, eavesdropping on each other, but again, this is to bring the piece of these stories together. This new musical is based on Lindy Woodhead’s novel. “War Paint” and the documentary film, “The Powder & the Glory ” by Ann Grossman and Arnie Reisman. In the story, we see that Ms Arden’s husband, Tommy Lewis (John Dossett) leaves her to go to work for the competitor, Ms Rubinstein. At the same time, Harry Fleming (deftly handled by Douglas Sills) leaves Ms Rubinstein to join forces with Ms Arden. While it seems a bit contrived, we are told that this really took place!
On the technical side, the set( David Korins) is spectacular with offices moving in and out and colorful cosmetics bringing our eyes to the stage. The costumes (Catherine Zuber) are as beautiful as the women who wear them. I am not sure why there is no mention of the props person, but this took some great work, so whoever you are, I congratulate you. This is not a dancing show , yet the small amount of dancing is choreographed by Christopher Gattelli. In fact, here is where I will talk about some of the problems with this show, making me think, without rewrite, New York will not take kindly to the lavish production as it is.
There are no memorable songs. Yes, Ms Ebersole and Ms Lupone do sing solos and duets, and while they are strong in voice with ranges that are amazing, the songs themselves are not meaningful and almost all of them pretty much sound alike. Perhaps this production should be shortened to less than 2 1/2 hours with a ten minute intermission. In fact, it might even be just right for a “chamber musical” instead of a full -blown Broadway Musical. The story is unique and if nothing else will keep the history of these two women on the minds of consumers. The RED DOOR still exists ( in all the upscale areas) but the name Helena Rubinstein, not so much. Her legacy is gone and if nothing else this epic story taught many of us about the power and strength of her, and her fiercest competitor as they grew their businesses. The play also teaches us about Charles Revson who came to them with his Revlon nail polish, both scoffed! We also learn that TV came to them to sponsor quiz shows during the early days. They laughed it off; Revson took the deal and became a household name to the teen-age girls of that era.
Other members of the cast are: Mary Ernster (one of my favorite Chicago actresses), Leslie Donna Flesner, David Girolmo, Joanna Glushak, Chris Hoch, Mary Claire King, Steffanie Leigh, Erik Libermaqn (Charles Revson and others), Barbara Marineau, Stephanie Jae Park and Angel Reda. This ensemble takes on many roles, changing costumes and personalities quickly. I know that they have assembled great talent and have a wonderful story to tell, showing us how women who came from nothing to build empires in an industry where men ruled. These ladies were able to appeal to the women for whom they created their products for teaching them that they were all beautiful (in their own way).
To clarify- this is a strong story (with some poetic license taken) that gives us along look into an industry that most of us were not aware of. The story itself takes place a long time ago. In fact, both of these powerhouse ladies passed away 50 years ago. This “Broadway-Bound” musical will continue at The Goodman Theatre located at 170 N. Dearborn Street thru August 21st with performances as follows:
Wednesdays 7:30 p.m.
Thursdays 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. 8/11 and 8/18 no matinees)
Fridays 8 p.m.
Saturdays 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.
7/30 open captioned
8/4 American Sign Language
8/6 audio described 2 p.m.
at 12:30 there is a touch -tour
to learn more visit www.GoodmanTheatre.org/Access
Tickets range from $44- $182 and can be ordered by calling the box office at 312-443-3800 or online at www.GoodmanTheatre.org/WarPaint