War Paint Reviews: Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole in An American Feud

Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole

“War Paint” depicts the feud that changed the face of America’s women. The cosmetics industry was born from the rivalry between two immigrants turned entrepreneurs:
Elizabeth Arden,  a Canadian born Florence Nightingale Graham, portrayed by Christine Ebersole and Helena Rubinstein, a Jew from Poland born Chaja Rubinstein  played by
Patti LuPone
What do the critics think now that it has opened on Broadway’s Nederlander Theater? Details below:

click on any photograph by Joan Marcus to see it enlarged.

Jonathan Mandell, New York Theater:  Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole are sharing a Broadway stage for the first time in their careers… If I might have preferred they be given a rivalry as grand as the talents of these extraordinary performers – say, Queen Elizabeth and Mary, Queen of Scots, whom she beheaded – they do much to help make this new musical both entertaining and fabulous…For all its appeal, “War Paint” does not surmount some logistical problems that are likely to make some of the scenes heavy-going to all but ardent students of the beauty industry that the two women helped create.

Adam Feldman, Time Out NY: “There are two excellent reasons to see War Paint, and their names are above the title…the musical doesn’t make a persuasive case that its stories must be told.”

Ben Brantley, New York Times: “The two stars “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….[T]hough my eyes occasionally glazed seeing “War Paint” for the second time, I wouldn’t have missed it, if only to hear its leading ladies’ climactic ballads.”

Charles Isherwood, Broadway News: “…Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole [give] performances of such resplendent force, wit and vivacity that the evening gleams like a freshly applied coat of nail polish catching the light…All the gloss cannot mask a monotony that sets in when we realize that the story unfolding will never acquire the emotional depth that can turn an enjoyable musical into a memorable, even transporting one.”:

Jesse Green, New York Magazine: Beguiling but frustrating…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

Joe Dziemianowicz, Daily News: “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.”

Terry Teachout, Wall Street Journal: “The stars are starry, the sets are glossy, and the book is full of snappy one-liners. In the end, though, “War Paint” fails to keep its costly promise… The plot of the show fails to pass the who-cares test.”

Linda Winer, Newsday : “War Paint” may not be one of the great musicals, but it is an enormously satisfying one. Yes, it is a showcase for established artists hungry for new material. But the show, sleekly and compassionately directed by Michael Greif and created by the team that made the haunting “Grey Gardens,” looks at American women from 1934 to 1964 through a new lens — from the lives of two business titans who took lipstick from harlots to high society.”

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 Rubenstein and her Highness, Christine Ebersole as Elizabeth Arden. And if those hallowed names mean nothing to you, this is not your show….it really is hard to concentrate on the plot when Ebersole is swanning around in a gorgeous rose-petal-pink silk suit…Luckily, there’s not much plot”

David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter: “…despite its relatively low-key dramatic engine, this is a smart, sophisticated exploration of two uncompromising personalities.”

Robert Hofler, The Wrap: “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…”

Jeremy Gerard, Deadline: “…the musical’s DOA, a high-stakes game of table-tennis…manages to be a huge bore.”

Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune: “..the show ultimately demurs when it comes to holding the great titans of makeup, and the men who surrounded them, to moral account. And that is what might just have made “War Paint” a truly great musical, instead of a highly entertaining and provocative one.”

Robert Kahn, NBC: “…The score, by “Grey Gardens” team Scott Frankel and Michael Korie — Wright and Ebersole were also both part of that memorable 2006 musical — is tuneful and catchy, winding up to a pair of bittersweet releases for the stars, just before the finale: “Pink,” sung by Ebersole, and “Forever Beautiful,” from LuPone. Good God, the women’s voices are in astounding condition.

Matt Windman, AM New York “The musical is built around an unwieldy and repetitive Ping-Pong structure of shifting back and forth between the two characters…However, “War Paint” still has a lot going for it, including self-empowered protagonists, high-powered performances, well-crafted period-style songs, the classy aura of old-school New York and the smooth direction of Michael Greif.”

Christopher Kelly, NJ.com“…earnest and relatively subdued…Anyone heading into “War Paint” looking for “Valley of the Dolls”-style hair-pulling — or even “Dynasty”-style name calling — will likely be disappointed; in fact, until the very last scene, LuPone and Ebersole’s characters don’t even directly speak to one another.”


Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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