By Christopher Thomas
13. Patti LuPone
This amazingly talented, formidable, iconic, Tony Award winning actress playing Helena Rubinstein is all you need to know in order to have a reason to see this show.
While the set is minimalist, the costumes are larger than life—befitting for a story about two women who created international empires on female beauty. The costumes for rivals Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden help develop their independent style and personalities, yet also help parallel the characters while their stories of their personal and business lives parallel as well. Catherine Zuber, who has had her own Rubinstein/Arden type success designing costumes on and off Broadway, truly brings vibrancy, character and an over-the-top lusciousness to the production. The hats that all the female characters wear throughout the show are delightfully decadent. The excessive, flowing fabrics from the gowns scream luxury.
Rubinstein and Arden infamously treated each other like enemies, even though the two never met until the end of their careers. Their rivalry is so strong that they don’t speak the other’s name aloud, which also creates for some funny moments in the show.
The title of the show shares its name with the dual-biography written by Lindy Woodhead that it’s based on, signaling that the tru
e-life bitter rivalry between these two women is the driving force of the show’s story. The vengefulness, competition, double-dealings and constant awareness of the other woman’s success is great fodder for an intriguing storyline. The women’s names are even strikingly on display as they float up and down throughout the play depending on which
cosmetic giant’s story is being told.
10. Michael Greif
The director of this show has the wherewithal and the experience in laying the groundwork to make leading-ladies shine. Just look at his ever-expanding biography here. He has created numerous productions that have been built on casting some of Broadways biggest female talents, including names like Idina Menzel, Alice Ripley, and now LuPone and Christine Ebersole. Go see a true master of his trade do his work.
9. Mary Ernster
She has been a Chicago knock-out for years, with memorable and moving performances in the Goodman’s A Christmas Carol, Lyric’s Merry Widow and Marriot Theatre’s Light in the Piazza and The King and I. Ardent Chicago theatre audiences will appreciate and recognize this Chicago-based actress, who holds her own in scenes opposite some of Broadway’s most successful leading ladies.
8. Patti LuPone
Again, it’s worth mentioning a second time. Guys, c’mon! Stop what you are doing and buy a ticket now if you haven’t yet… it’s PATTI LUPONE. Performing a new role in our very own favorite city! Go see the grand Diva (and, if for some reason you found your way to our site but you don’t know who Patti LuPone is, then read her bio here…)
The true life scandal of Rubinstein and Arden’s leading men is highlighted in the musical as well. Both women stole their most loyal male counterpart away from the other’s business. In Arden’s case, her beauty industry’s right-hand man also happened to be her husband, which makes Helena Rubinstein’s coup even more salacious. John Dosset and Douglas Sills play these roles with equal prowess, featuring their notorious disloyalty.
6. Make-Up for the Stage
In the same way that Arden and Rubinstein treated women’s faces. Kenneth Posner (lighting design) treats David Korin’s set design like a blank canvas. He sustains beautifully painted scenes throughout the performance, while also creating brief moments, mere flashes even, that elicit breaths of poignancy, elegance, tragedy and empathy. Sometimes subtle, but always present, are his choices in lighting to color the wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling shelves of glass bottles that remain the backdrop throughout the show. The effects that the lights have on these actors, these designs and the audience are invaluable to the production.
Arden’s signature color imbues its hue vividly throughout the designs. The character mentions that every woman loves the color because it reminds them of their youth, which is what they are all chasing after with these beauty products anyway. Humorously, the character admits toward the end of the show that she never liked the color anyway. Like it or not, one can’t escape from its rosy presence throughout the production. And, as the title of Ebersole’s 11-o’clock number in the show, “Pink” shines as the single best piece of Frankel and Korie’s new musical.
4. Girl Power
While there are many roles of women in musical theatre, it is a genre littered with stories full of leading men and numerous delicious supporting male roles. Refreshingly, this team has created a piece to contribute to the genre that is a story centered on two trailblazing women of the 20th century, played by two powerhouse performers of the 21st century. And, the chorus is completely made up of females, to boot.
3. Patti Lupone
Yes, a third reminder…because it’s Patti Frickin’ LuPone!
2. Christine Ebersole
This leading lady, who embodies Arden’s sense of decorum matched with an unending drive, is reserved for the #2 slot because she is the actress that truly shines in this production (unbelievable that anyone could outshine LuPone on any stage). However, this Tony Award winning actress holds the stage in her own right as an equally formidable, talented and enchanting performer. Her soaring soprano shimmers in Frankel and Korie’s music and lyrics. Their previous work together on the musical Grey Gardens makes one sure that these writers truly understand Ebersole’s talents, creating yet another role that permits audiences to witness her remarkable gifts.
1.Patti LuPone AND Christine Ebersole
Because if just one wasn’t enough, the deliverance of this duo-Diva team taking the Goodman’s stage together is exactly the type of combination that theatre audience’s drool over. The unique opportunity to witness a new musical in Chicago with two actresses of such experience, such acclaim, and such talent is too much to miss. Audiences may have seen LuPone or Ebersole in their historic roles on Broadway. Maybe they caught a concert at Ravinia here in Chicagoland, or even saw a TV special with either of these regal performers. However, this is the first time audiences can delight in experiencing both of these women sharing the stage as equals and rivals in an epic story such as this.
“War Paint” appears in the Goodman’s 856-seat Albert Theatre through August 21. More information and tickets are available by calling 312-443-3800 or online here.