Performing Arts: Theater
April 16, 2017
Blind to any glass roofs, Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden amassed fortunes capitalizing on beauty tricks perfected in the age of the Pharaohs. Once deemed acceptable only for actors and ladies of the night, make-up flexed its legitimate muscles when Rubenstein and Arden began expertly peddling their brand of cosmetics to all women, regardless of social or political rank.

In inspired casting, two musical theater divas, Patti LaPone and Christine Ebersol, squared off for an evening of high drama. Determined to make America’s women beautiful, they flooded the market with beautifying products that filtered into the mainstream through brilliant marketing and product placement. Arden’s signature “pink” capitalized on ultimate feminity, while Helena Rubenstien searched for secret ingredients that extended youth. Both were prodigious workers, channeling every shred of their waking hours into their high-stakes businesses.

In this production written by Doug Wright and astutely directed by Michael Greif, men appear—John Dossett (Tommy Lewis) and Harry Fleming (Douglas Sills) – offering guidance and management, but the women are the undisputed honchos.

A vehicle perfectly suited to LuPone and Ebersole, the music by Scott Frankel and lyrics by Michael Korie played to each lady’s vocal strengths. LuPone belted out songs revealing over-sized emotions while Ebersole shaped melodies to her steely, refined sensibilities.

For the most part, the set by David Korins is divided into two parts much like a “split-screen” with Arden coolly seething on one side and Rubenstein hissing on the other.

“War Paint” adroitly draws distinctions between the two women portraying Arden as cozy with high society doyennes and Rubenstein glorying in intellectual salons and the arts community. Both were keen marketers and whip smart women who understood the benefits of “over-pricing” and exaggerating the effectiveness of the ingredients in their products.

Not a historical documentary, “War Paint” conveyed strong portraits of women who never said “never.” There’s real pleasure in watching these two gals at the top of their game, pitching songs like “My American Moment” and “If I’d Been a Man” with a verve that still eludes so many women struggling to have their voices heard.

“War Paint” made its mark this Broadway season.

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