Patti Lupone and Chrisitne Ebersole are putting their best face forward and giving the musical theatre masterclass of a lifetime at the Nederlander Theatre.
The 2016-2017 Broadway season was full of diva power and big names, including Bette Midler in Hello, Dolly!, Glenn Close in Sunset Boulevard, and Lupone and Ebersole starring as cosmetic industry titans, Helena Rubenstein and Elizabeth Arden, in War Paint. It worked out well that Midler walked away with the 2017 Tony Award for Best Actress in a musical because picking between Lupone and Ebersole would have been impossible.
The two legendary stars of the stage give magnificent performances in a story that centers around the personal and corporate feud between Arden and Rubenstein. Ebersole, who plays Arden, brings glamour, grace, and belts out beautiful ballads as the blonde behind the famous pink packaging and exclusive Red Door Spa. Lupone, who plays Rubenstein, perfects a strong Polish accent (although you must listen closely), donning flamboyant, diamond jewels and delving into the science behind makeup. While both women had different backgrounds, they both shared the ambition to liberate women through makeup and show society that women can be just as powerful and successful in a business world dominated by men. The timeline is set between 1935-1964, a time when initially only prostitutes and show girls would wear makeup. Arden and Rubenstein empowered women by allowing them to paint their faces and create their own unique identities.
Arden and Rubenstein were both immigrants who came to the United States to pursue the American dream. The two foes were practically neighbors in New York City, ruling their beauty empires only a few blocks from one another on Fifth Avenue. Arden and Rubenstein were business pioneers but had to sacrifice and overcome many obstacles to gain their notoriety, such as losing relationships and facing betrayal by family members, business partners, and high class New Yorkers.
The rise to their fame and fortune is beautifully told through standouts songs including, "If I'd Been a Man", "Face to Face", and "Beauty in the World". The set is one of the best I have experienced on Broadway in awhile. Arden's kingdom comes to life with hundreds of rose colored bottles and jars that line the wall with a glimmering pink glow. In contrast, Rubenstein's empire is brought to life with hues of cool blue and white that highlight her laboratory in perfecting the science of beauty. David Korins's set design is abstract, colorful, and makes the production even more glamourous.
The standouts songs in this shows are in Act Two during the solos of "Pink" and "Forever Beautiful". Ebersole pours her soul into the song, recounting all of the choices she made in her life to reach this point in her career. Lupone also brings her full force vocal power as she looks back at numerous portraits of herself dangling from the ceiling, falling one-by-one, and realizing that these famous artists made her beautiful, therefore she feels forever beautiful.
Although the dueling divas never met in real life, the creators of the show took some liberations with the final scene by having Arden and Rubenstein come face-to-face to sing a duet, the only time in the show. After stealing each others formulas, going head to head in Congressional hearings, and living a life of competition, the two finally realize that they could have ruled the world if they only would have set aside their differences and worked together as a team. However, this realization comes long past their glory days. Instead, consumers are buying drugstore cosmetics and cheaper options on the market.
War Paint is very much of a parallelism, split stage musical, brought together through a classic score and sung by Broadway royalty. After decades of successful careers, this is the first time Ebersole and Lupone have shared the stage together. Lupone, 68, has also publicly announced that this will most likely be her last musical. Just as Arden and Rubenstein revolutionized the world of makeup, Ebersole and Lupone have also paved the way on Broadway. It is worth the price of the ticket to spend two and half hours listening to Ebersole and Lupone harmonize about a word filled with lipstick, mascara, and face cream.
Arden and Rubeinstein's global industries still continue today. Although they do not receive as much publicity credit as they deserve, both companies still bare their own names and continue to sell products to millions.