War Paint on Broadway

“Welcome to Katz Reviews. This is Ed Katz of Katnip Marketing- marketing consultant by day; theater critic by night- bringing my weekly review segment, Katz Reviews, here for you on WICC 600.

Broadway has had a great season for musicals but only 4 shows were nominated for Best Musical.

One that many people thought would be nominated- but wasn’t- is ‘War Paint.’ The creative team is remarkably talented: book writer Doug Wright has won many awards- including a Pulitzer- and the music and lyric team of Scott Frankel and Michael Korie were nominated for several awards for ‘Grey Gardens.’ Choreographer Chris Gattelli and Director Michael Greif are both multiple award winners and Michael Grief has directed ‘Rent,’ ‘Next to Normal’ and this season’s ‘Dear Evan Hansen.’

Now add two legendary megawatt stars in Patti Lupone and Christine Ebersole and you have all the ingredients for a huge hit, right? Well, on paper it doesn’t get any better than that!

 photo: Theatermania (l to r: Christine Ebersole & Patti Lupone)

And, even besides all the talent involved, there is much to recommend in ‘War Paint.’ It is the story of dueling women’s cosmetics legends, Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden; how they rose to fame and fortune- and what they sacrificed to make it. I don’t think it’s much of a spoiler to say they both sacrificed love.

The story has some sharply realized moments as well as some witty dialogue including several great zingers delivered perfectly by Patti Lupone. An example is when she recounts being turned down by a tenant board in a posh apartment building because she was Jewish- so she bought the building.

But the story lags in spots, bringing the energy level down. And it is one thing to have two legends singing the songs- but most of the music is unexceptional. As is the choreography. And I was not the only one who had difficulty deciphering Patti Lupone’s heavy German immigrant accent as Helena Rubinstein, particularly in Act One. I’m not sure if it was the audio engineer’s fault on the night I saw it- or maybe my ears adjusted by Act Two- but several in the audience remarked they also missed some dialogue because her accent was just too hard to understand.

David Korins’ scenery and Catherine Zuber’s costumes are first rate and they both earn their award nominations.

And both Lupone and Ebersole are Best Actress nominees. So, because the whole show doesn’t fully connect, I give ‘War Paint’ 3 stars out of 5. But there are several entertaining scenes and it is a great chance to see two Broadway legends on one stage.

Catch my reviews right here this time each week and on my Facebook page and website, Katz Reviews dot com.

This is Ed Katz talking theater for WICC 600!”