Photo by Don Kellogg

Friday, July 29, 2016

War Paint

Look out New York - here comes two powerful women.  I say this about both the characters and the actresses portraying them.  In their latest installment, War Paint, Doug Wright (Book), Scott Frankel (Music), Michael Korie (Lyrics), and Michael Greif (Director), come together to tell us the yet untold story of two very powerful women who were pioneers in the cosmetics industry - Elizabeth Arden (Christine Ebersole) and Helena Rubinstein (Patti LuPone).

With these powerhouses, one would expect a slam-dunk hit.  What was delivered was substantially less than that.  The music was melodious and delightful.  The story was a tad bit long and not exactly the most interesting throughout.  What turned this possible star vehicle into a half baked show was fortunately or unfortunately mostly the fault of Ms. LuPone.  She portrays Ms. Rubinstein with a thick (presumably) Polish accent.  Although it really just sounded Russian.  There was nothing wrong with her vocal abilities - which often blew the roof off.  There was nothing wrong with her acting abilities either.  One hundred percent of the failure was her accent.  Mr. Wright's story is often told through Mr. Korie's lyrics - and when you can't understand a single word in entire song after entire song, it becomes a bit of a problem for the audience to understand what the hell is even going on. While there was some humor in the dialogue also - once again - the accent intercedes and causes confusion.   One of these effects is to turn Ms. Ebersole (Arden) into the dominant, understandable, and significantly more liked character.  An imbalance that does not correct itself throughout the entire show.  Ebersole's portrayal of Arden was pitch perfect, humorous, and sublime.

Note to the director and Mr. Wright - cut the prologue and open the show with Arden's number - it was fantastic, colorful, rousing, and set the mark very high.

At times there are two signatures hanging above the set (Arden and Rubinstein) and occasionally, the actors were under the wrong name.  When you do that in the beginning it's a fairly bad idea.

Costumes (Catherine Zuber) and sets (David Korins) were fantastic.

These two ladies were mavericks of their time and their story is somewhat interesting, but there were too many detours, side stories, and un-explored plot lines.  This script needs a doctor.  It brings new meaning to the phrase "Let's put some lipstick on this pig."