Patti Lupone, Christine Ebersole and company. Photo by Joan Marcus.
The reviews are in for the new musical about cosmetics icons Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden, starring mega-stars Patti Lupone and Christine Ebersole.
Book by Doug Wright
Music by Scott Frankel
Lyrics by Michael Korie
Directed by Michael Greif
Choreographed by Christopher Gattelli
Cast: Patti Lupone, Christine Ebersole, John Dossett, Douglas Sills, Barbara Jo Bednarczuk, Patti Cohenour, Mary Ernster, David Girolmo, Joanna Glushak, Chris Hoch, Mary Claire King, Steffanie Leigh, Erik Liberman, Barbara Marineau, Donna Migliaccio, Stephanie Jae Park, Jennifer Rias, Angel Reda, Tally Sessions
Ben Brantley – New York Times
Ms. LuPone and Ms. Ebersole (notice how tactfully I’m shifting the order in which they’re mentioned) are not coasting on the market value of their star appeal. They’re strategically deploying the knowledge and craft of a combined eight decades in musicals to make us believe that the show in which they appear is moving forward, instead of running in place in high heels.
Marilyn Stasio – Variety
“War Paint” is a musical about Catherine Zuber’s fabulous costumes and magnificent hats, as modeled by the great Patti LuPone as Helena Rubinstein, and her Highness, Christine Ebersole as Elizabeth Arden. And if those hallowed names mean nothing to you, this is not your show.
Jeremy Gerard – Deadline
Somehow this all manages to be a huge bore though not for want of trying and effortful lung power from the leads in director Michael Greif’s high-voltage production. The score, by the talented duo of Scott Frankel (music) and Michael Korie (lyrics) is as hard on the ear as the book, by their Grey Gardens colleague Doug Wright, is clunky and predictable. The Big Numbers seem equally apportioned between LuPone and Ebersole, but none of the songs achieves a necessary emotional payoff, perhaps because the authors are so intent on not letting one overshadow the other. (Adding to the muddle, LuPone’s heavy, unplaceable accent makes her frequently difficult to understand.)
David Rooney – The Hollywood Reporter
The marquee draw is the dynamite pairing of Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole, Broadway’s finest, in richly distinctive roles that play to their respective strengths. “Fire and Ice” is a divinely trashy-flashy number late in the show that signals the unstoppable rise of firms like Revlon with their down-market drugstore product, a shifting trend that catches both Rubinstein and Arden by surprise. But that song title might also describe the styles of LuPone and Ebersole, and their contrasting turns here are simply mesmerizing. If this review ends up unfinished, just assume I died and went to show-queen heaven.
Caitlin Brody – Entertainment Weekly
The claws are out in War Paint — and boy, are they perfectly lacquered. This new Michael Greif-directed musical stars Tony dynamos Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole as self-made beauty moguls Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden, respectively. The two were ruthless rivals throughout their 50-plus-year career — Arden the blonde, silky, cotton candy–pink counterpoint to Rubenstein’s exotic, art-deco-clad Pole. Playing this pair, Ebersole and LuPone are nothing short of flawless.
Chris Jones – Chicago Tribune
That issue certainly informs the very classy and elegant new Broadway musical from the Goodman Theatre, “War Paint,” which opened Thursday night at the Nederlander Theatre under the deceptively complex direction of Michael Greif and with a sparkling retro design by David Korins. Those themes float in the air during the most poignant numbers in the score composed by Scott Frankel, and they suffuse the lyrics of Michael Korie. Those signature lines — part of a book by Doug Wright filled with bon mots juiced by the dramatic irony of the recent decades of feminist advancement — ring out loud and clear. Especially since they are spoken, respectively, by the formidable Christine Ebersole and Patti LuPone.
Matthew Murray – Talkin’ Broadway
You don’t need to be obsessed with beauty products to grasp the timeless axiom about makeup: Less is more. That’s also true of the theatre, where judicial application of speech, song, and dance tends to say more and pierce deeper than a colossal brain dump. This lesson has been forgotten, or rather vivisected, in the new musical War Paint that just opened at the Nederlander. In trying to depict the decades-long feud between cosmetics titans Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubinstein, the team behind the cult succès d’estime Grey Gardens has been too interested in slathering on content to notice that the frail skeleton beneath is, at best, half a step away from disintegration.
Joe Dziemianowicz – NY Daily News
The good news from the Nederlander Theatre, where the show opened Thursday, is that the two stars are in rare form. LuPone’s performance is slathered in gusto. Ebersole’s turn is creamier than any emollient. They’re so good, you wish the show were better. As is, it’s polished to a high shine but bland and scarcely skin deep. And it took not one but two source materials to produce this.
Robert Hofler – The Wrap
Cosmetics titans Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden set up shops near each other in Manhattan during the Depression, but never met during their long reign over the world of lipstick, facials, and nail polish. It’s easy to develop conflict when Bette Davis is kicking Joan Crawford around on the floor of a soundstage in Hollywood. What the men behind “War Paint” rely on instead is Patti LuPone as the imperious Rubinstein duking it out vocally with Christine Ebersole as the polished Arden, and they deliver. These ladies who wear hats but do much more than lunch are knockouts. How rare it is to see two great female performances in one season, much less one musical.
Matt Windman – AM New York
Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole — both Broadway divas, both two-time Tony winners, and both of whom gave a performance of a lifetime a decade ago (LuPone in “Gypsy,” Ebersole in “Grey Gardens”) — now come together to portray the dueling cosmetics queens Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden in the messy but smart and rousing new musical “War Paint.”
Jesse Green – Vulture
Because for all the intelligence, sophistication, and sheer talent involved — LuPone and Ebersole are in top form — War Paint keeps falling between an older model of storytelling and a new one, never fully climbing its way out of the gap.
Tim Teeman – The Daily Beast
After a shaky opening, War Paint heats up in the second act. The first zigzags a little fruitlessly in a search for plot and animus between its leads. It begins with a nice idea: An unseen voice baits a group of women about their beauty regimes and why they would benefit from makeup. This mini-circus of insecurities is awkwardly scored, and the orchestra—as happens occasionally elsewhere—is so loud it plays over some of the sung words.