All is fair in love and WarPaint? Well, not really. Helena Rubinstein (Patti LuPone) and Elizabeth Arden (Christine Ebersole) the self made cosmetic queens were out to destroy each other from the beginning and there was nothing fair about it.
For the Record both of these women were immigrants (Arden from Ontario, Canada and Rubinstein from Kraków, Poland). They opened their salons in New York City in the 1930’s catering to a wealthy demographic of women in search of the fountain of youth. They were in fierce competition from the beginning. They would stop at nothing to be on top. Both women had a man in the wings. For Arden it was her husband Tommy Lewis (John Dossett) and for Rubinstein it was the faithful and closeted Harry Fleming (Douglas Sills). Neither woman was going to share the spotlight with the men or give them credit in the business, and in a dramatic turn of events the men switched teams, both vowing to give away all the secrets of their former employers. Of course all of their greed and deceit would eventually come back to haunt them, like when the FDA orders them both list the ingredients on their label and the truth of what women are actually putting on their faces came out, and it wasn’t pretty. Also discovered was the day and night cream in different packages that turned out to be the exact same product, and the beautiful pink porcelain bottles that cost more than what was actually inside of them. Next came World War I that took the wind out of their ‘sales’, when many of their ingredients dried up as they were needed for the war effort. Women also were less interested in their appearance and went to work in factories while their husbands were fighting the war. Charles Revson (Erik Liberman) got the last laugh on both of them. While the two were busy trying to destroy each other, he was coming up with the more affordable Revlon cosmetic line, which put an end to the monopoly and opened the door to a wave of other affordable cosmetic brands.
While this story is thoroughly entertaining, let’s talk about some of the deeper elements of this production, and there are many. First you have Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole in absolute top form. These women arguably have the best and most powerful vocals on broadway. The score (Scott Frankel and Michael Korie) holds up to these two superpower voices and provides an equal balance for them to highlight their very best qualities. While Sills and Dossett might take a backseat in their roles, there is no denying their standout performances on the stage.
From the moment you enter the theatre, you feel like you have entered into a world of beauty. The curtain is painted with a larger than life portrait of the lower portion of a woman’s face that explodes with boldly painted red lips and nails. It only gets better when the curtain goes up and this stunning set (David Korins) takes you from a world of Arden pink softness to the purples and blues of the Rubinstein empire. Glass bottles of assorted shapes and sizes fill the background, and glow in different shades as the scenes change. The costumes (Catherine Zuber) could easily account for half the budget. I didn’t count, but LuPone and Ebersole seem to change costumes with every scene. They are wrapped in the most elegant and flowing attire of silk, satin, fur and always perfectly accessorized. The ensemble cast is equally adorned in matching colors and materials that move so perfectly with the gentle choreography (Christopher Gattelli and Mark Myars).
Everything is beautiful about this production directed by Michael Greif, and that is just what you would expect from a story as such. My hairs stood on end at the finale but you probably couldn’t notice with all the hairspray I used that might just have been invented by one of these beauty entrepreneurs.
While the Rubinstein name is now buried under the L’Oréal brand, the Red Door is still open for business on 5th Avenue in New York City. Put on your War Paint and come down and see who reigns in this war on beauty. For tickets and more information visit http://www.warpaintmusical.com and check for available discounts at my website http://www.thisbroadsway.com/discount-tickets.html -ThisbroadSway 03/25/17