Book by Doug Wright
Music by Scott Frankel
Lyrics by Michael Korie
Directed by Michael Grieg
Choreographed by Christopher Gattelli
Music Direction by Lawrence Yurman
At the Goodman Theatre, Chicago
Cosmetics = “Hope in a jar”
“There are no ugly women, only lazy ones.” -Helena Rubinstein
Bland, forgettable music and lyrics carried by two super-star performances
In the hyped world premiere of War Paint, the team of Doug Wright (Book), Scott Frankel (Music), Michael Korie (lyrics), Directed by Michael Grieg, are assembled once more after their successful collaboration with Grey Gardens. War Paint is a star vehicle for Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole. They play two self-made cosmetic giants who competed to make woman world-wide glamorous during the first half of the 20th Century. These innovators were two of only a few females to run their own large companies. While they competed fiercely, Rubinstein pushing product content and Arden selling pink opulent packaging. neither would allow the others name to be said in their presence. The source of their mutual hatred is not satisfyingly explained in the show. The two became obsessed with beating the other in the cosmmetic market.
With Rubinstein being a Polish immigrant complete with a thick Slavic accent and Arden a glamour queen, both had men who were subservient as business associates. Helena had the gay marketing wiz, Henry Fleming (Douglas Sills) and Elizabeth had her husband, Tommy Lewis (John Dossett), as her marketing director. While the two competed for the cosmetic market, their treatment of their marketing men led Fleming and Lewis to ultimately change loyalties, each going over to the other side!
Using a glitzy set (design by David Korins) and 30-40’s colorful costumes complete with fine bonnets (fashion design by Catherine Zuber), War Paint is a parallel storytelling musical filled with twenty songs, including several power anthems and several tepid show stoppers. Composers Frankel and Korie wrote a few effective power ballads and strong anthems to feature the fabulous talents of Patti Lu Pone as the strong-willed Polish diva, and the sweet yet determined diva Arden sung beautifully by Ebersole were the highlights of the musical. Each number, whether a solo or a duet, found these two Broadway superstars in terrific voice. LuPone and Ebersole together make the show worth seeing.
But, I did have some problems with the bland, too-specific “talk-songs” that dominated this show. The dialogue was underwritten making the show depend on the “sound-alike” songs far t0o much. After three or four talk songs, my ear only heard the same sound alike songs. I’d advise more dialogue and less singing plot twists. The power ballads and anthems by the leads are terrific but those talk songs are repetitious and annoying. Here, less is more. One of my friends suggested that War Paint needs to be refocused as a play with music with drama intermixed with those strong power numbers so expertly delivered by Lu Pone and Ebersole. Food for thought?
War Paint needs some cuts and more dialogue. As it plays now, the stars carry the show but with some tightening and fewer minor songs, War Paint would reach a wider audience. It is a noble attempt at a 30-40’s old -time Broadway musical. Too bad those genius composers from that era aren’t available.
Date Reviewed: July 20, 2016
For more info checkout the War Paint page at theatreinchicago.com
At the Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn, Chicago, IL, call 312-443-3800, www.goodmantheatre.org, tickets from $44 – $182, Tuesdays thru Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 2 & 8 pm, Sundays at 2 & 7:30, Thursday matinee at 2 pm, running time is 2hpurs, 30 minuted with intermission, through August 21, 2016