“War Paint” Unites Broadway Legends in an Epic Tale of Makeup Rivalry

“War Paint” Unites Broadway Legends in an Epic Tale of Makeup Rivalry

From left, Patti LuPone as Helena Rubinstein and Christine Ebersole as Elizabeth Arden in "War Paint"

In a theater season chock-full of new musicals, “War Paint” stands out for two reasons: Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole.

These two titans of stage and screen are portraying equally impressive women in the field of cosmetics—Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden. Though “War Paint” takes great liberties with historical facts to blend this tale of parallel rises from poverty to financial and business successes, this show gives audiences a glimpse into the highs and lows of powerful, yet vulnerable, women who have forever shaped the lives—and faces—of makeup wearers worldwide.

“War Paint” takes audiences through 30 years of makeup, rivalry and sexism. Even though these two entrepreneurs were at the top of their game, the fact that they were self-made women was a constant roadblock, even among their own gender. Their persistence was admirable and inspiring, made even more so because of the amount of star power emanating off that stage.

Two-time Tony Award winners LuPone and Ebersole are equally amazing playing these different women. As Rubinstein, LuPone’s sharp wit and natural comedic timing coexist beautifully with the logic-based viewpoints Rubinstein was noted for. Rubinstein’s emphasis on making makeup with science really resonated with me—because why should you have to gussy up something that the numbers already support? At the same time, I was drawn to Arden’s world of pink. I may not wear much makeup myself, but I surely appreciated the appearance and presentation of her products. As Arden, Ebersole is the consummate ringmaster of her self-made circus. Her show(wo)manship is precise and perky, which makes her second act solo, “Pink,” that much more heartbreaking. 

This show works because of LuPone and Ebersole’s palpable onstage chemistry. Though they play rivals who only cross paths in choreography as opposed to real life, these women perfectly match each other beat-for-beat, giving as good as they get. While the characters are always trying to upstage each other, these women are definitely not and it’s that combined star-power and unquestionable talent that drives the story and makes it impossible to take your eyes off the stage. (Catherine Zuber’s costumes are also ogle-worthy… those hats alone are hypnotic, but add in the bold dresses and all that jewelry… everything and everyone is just so pretty).

While LuPone and Ebersole shine so brightly, they are supported by a talented ensemble. Rubinstein and Arden ran their cosmetic empires, but had right-hand men who had some good ideas along the way. John Dossett (Tommy Lewis) and Douglas Sills (Harry Fleming) complement the leading ladies wonderfully, adding humor (that “Dinosaurs” duet!) and instigating conflict, linking the women’s stories together on a devastatingly personal level. 

I must admit, I did not know much about Rubinstein or Arden before seeing this show, but as I watched their stories unfold, I found myself feeling completely empowered. I admired their tenacity and appreciated them fighting the good fight for women executives. Plus, how great is it to see LuPone and Ebserole on a Broadway stage together?! That alone is worth the price of admission—it’s just a beyond delightful added bonus that “War Paint” is an engaging musical whose pro-feminist message is wholly relevant for today’s social climate.

“War Paint” is playing at the Nederlander Theatre at 208 W. 41st St., btw Seventh & Eighth aves. Get your tickets here!

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