War Paint is a musical with book by Doug Wright, music by Scott Frankel, and lyrics by Michael Korie, based both on Lindy Woodhead’s 2004 book War Paint and on the 2007 documentary film The Powder & the Glory by Ann Carol Grossman and Arnie Reisman. The musical focuses on the lives of and rivalry between 20th-century female entrepreneurs Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubinstein.
The musical relates the rivalry between two important women of the cosmetics industry, Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubinstein, from the 1930s to the 1960s. Elizabeth Arden was the daughter of a Canadian farmer and presented her products as emblems of an upper-class life of comfort. Helena Rubinstein, from Poland, “emphasized science”, promising an “exotic look.” That was “code for Jewish” according to Scott Frankel.
Doug Wright noted: “Together, they not only forged an industry, but a way of life…They absolutely shattered glass ceilings as women in industry.” Frankel, explaining the musical style, said: “I’m a huge fan of music from the 1930s, ‘40s, ‘50s and ’60s and, without making it a pastiche, I soaked my brain in the fluids of those periods to see what absorbed naturally.”
War Paint premiered at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago in the summer of 2016. Under the direction of Michael Greif, the Chicago production began performances on June 28, 2016, officially opened on July 18, and ran through August 21, 2016.  The production starred Patti LuPone as Rubinstein and Christine Ebersole as Arden, with John Dossett as Tommy Lewis, Arden’s husband, and Douglas Sills, as Harry Fleming, Rubinstein’s confidante.
The musical features scenic design by David Korins, costume design by Catherine Zuber, lighting design by Kenneth Posner, sound design by Brian Ronan, orchestrations by Bruce Coughlin, and choreography by Christopher Gattelli.
War Paint premiered on Broadway at the Nederlander Theatre on March 7, 2017 before officially opening on April 6. Additional featured cast includes Dossett and Sills, reprising their roles from the Chicago production. The producers announced that the production would close on November 5, 2017, after 236 regular performances, because of the need for LuPone to have hip replacement surgery.
The Broadway production received 4 Tony Award nominations. Both Christine Ebersole and Patti LuPone were nominated for Best Actress in a Musical, David Korins for Best Scenic Design of a Musical and Catherine Zuber for Best Costume Design of a Musical.
In 1935 Manhattan, several society women fret over the beauty ideals imposed on them by an unforgiving culture (“Best Face Forward”). A red door beckons them inside Elizabeth Arden’s salon, where they are greeted by the Arden Girls and then by Elizabeth Arden herself (“Behind the Red Door”). Elizabeth’s husband Tommy informs her that Helena Rubinstein plans to relaunch her company in America. Meanwhile, Helena arrives in Manhattan with her marketing director Harry Fleming and tells him that, while she’s never met Elizabeth in person, she still plans to undo her (“Back on Top”).
When Helena extols her latest face cream, an unfazed Elizabeth reassures Tommy that her iconic pink packaging will always trump pseudo-science. Harry urges Helena to market her cream as two separate products: one for the daytime and one for the nighttime. Helena consents, causing her sales to surpass Elizabeth’s. Tommy urges Elizabeth to give him a promotion, but she is reluctant to do so because she believes it will make her look weak (“My Secret Weapon”).
One night, while having dinner at the St. Regis Hotel, Elizabeth overhears Helena and Harry talking in an adjoining banquette. She learns that Helena longs for inclusion and that Harry feels undervalued (“My American Moment”). When Harry storms off after Helena mentions her knowing about his late-night trysts, Elizabeth gives him her card and invites him to a job interview.
Sometime later, Harry meets with Elizabeth and insists on working as her Vice President of Sales. Despite her initial reluctance, Elizabeth agrees to Harry’s demands after Tommy walks in on them. Harry tells Helena about his new job and hits the town with an errant sailor while Tommy enjoys a night out with several of the Arden Girls. When Elizabeth catches him in the steam room with one of the girls, she promptly fires him and demands a divorce (“Step on Out”). Both women wonder what their lives would be had they been born male (“If I’d Been a Man”).
While receiving a visit from nail polish salesman Charles Revson and his hand model Dorian Leigh, Elizabeth becomes intrigued with Dorian as she sees vestiges of her former self in the young up-and-comer (“Better Yourself”). Meanwhile, after being approached by Tommy about a job, Helena suggests that they work together to destroy Elizabeth’s reputation by telling the FDA her skin cream doubles as horse salve (“Oh, That’s Rich”).
In 1939 Washington, D.C., Elizabeth appears at a Senate Committee hearing and offers a spirited defense to committee chairman Senator Royal Copeland. Fully aware that Tommy deliberately sold her out, Elizabeth reports Helena and forces her to testify before the committee. Following Helena’s testimony, however, Copeland chides both women and claims their efforts to undermine one another only resulted in them incriminating themselves. Alone and bereft, the two wonder what it would be like if they actually met (“Face to Face”).
As dismayed society ladies across Manhattan read the obligatory labels on Arden and Rubinstein products (“Inside of the Jar”), both women discover that war has broken out in Europe. Helena decides to buoy the spirits of women dedicated to the war effort with a brand new line while Elizabeth learns that the War Office is rationing silk and nylon and vows to do her part by inventing products without them (“Necessity Is the Mother of Invention”).
In the post-war years, both women thrive financially and open salons in fashionable neighborhoods across America (“Best Face Forward [Reprise]”). One day, Helena is dining at the St. Regis when she learns she lost the bid on a Park Avenue penthouse because its Board of Directors finds her too Jewish. She overhears Elizabeth being rejected by the elite Mayfair Club because they find her too nouveau riche and gloats over her rival getting a much-needed taste of her own prejudice (“Now You Know”).
In the 1950s, Tommy and Harry urge their respective employers to update their ad campaigns. When CBS President Bill Paley offers them sponsorship of the new game show “The $64,000 Question,” both women refuse (“No Thank You”). During the show’s premiere, they are shocked to learn that the sponsor is Charles Revson’s newly formed company Revlon, which features Dorian Leigh in an ad campaign that celebrates sex appeal (“Fire and Ice”).
Following the premiere, Helena fires Tommy for failing to alert her to the danger Revlon now poses while Elizabeth fires Harry when he dares to say “I told you so.” Both men commiserate at a bar, fully aware that their former employers are digging their own graves by failing to keep up with the times (“Dinosaurs”).
Several years later, Elizabeth’s Board of Directors pressures her to name a successor, prompting her to opine about how her entire resumé has been pared down to her patented color (“Pink”). Helena, meanwhile, is pressured by her attorneys to save on taxes by donating her large portrait collection. She refuses, insisting that, unlike the creams she spent her entire life championing, the paintings are what preserve her immortality (“Forever Beautiful”).
At a gala organized by the American Women’s Association in 1964, both women find themselves face to face after being accidentally invited to deliver the keynote address. The two argue until Helena notices that Elizabeth is wearing a shade of her lipstick. The two eventually realize that they had a shared goal that surpassed their bitter rivalry (“Beauty in the World”). As they are ushered to the stage, their handler Tulip thanks the former cosmetics moguls for “all you’ve done to – I mean for – women.” Upon hearing this, both women pause and wonder who will defend beauty in an ever-coarsening world (“Finale”).
Goodman Theatre (2016)
Original Broadway production (2017)
|Character||Chicago (2016)||Broadway (2017)|
|Helena Rubinstein||Patti LuPone|
|Elizabeth Arden||Christine Ebersole|
|Tommy Lewis||John Dossett|
|Harry Fleming||Douglas Sills|
|The Society Doyenne and others||Mary Ernster|
|Senator Royal Copeland, William S. Paley and others||David Girolmo|
|The Countess and others||Joanna Glushak|
|Mr. Simms and others||Chris Hoch|
|Miss Beam and others||Mary Claire King|
|Dorian Leigh and others||Steffanie Leigh|
|Charles Revson and others||Erik Liberman|
|The Grand Dame and others||Barbara Marineau|
|Beauty Technician and others||Stephanie Jae Park|
|Miss Smythe and others||Angel Reda|
|Miss Teale and others||Leslie Donna Flesner||Jennifer Rias|
In his review of the Chicago production, Peter Marks in The Washington Post praised LuPone and Ebersole and the score: “LuPone and Ebersole wrap their prodigious voices around a score by Scott Frankel and Michael Korie that rings with the kind of exhilaratingly brassy notes that match the chutzpah of their characters’ ambitions… In the twilight is where both LuPone’s and Ebersole’s performances gain their essential poignancy…” and the story line: “War Paint conveys with tremendous authority what it must have been like for both women to have assumed the traditionally masculine role of running a major company…”
Awards and Nominations
Original Broadway Production
|2017||Tony Awards||Best Actress in a Leading Role in Musical||Christine Ebersole||Nominated|
|Best Scenic Design of a Musical||David Korins||Nominated|
|Best Costume Design of a Musical||Catherine Zuber||Nominated|
|Drama Desk Awards||Outstanding Actress in a Musical||Christine Ebersole||Nominated|
|Outstanding Lyrics||Michael Korie||Nominated|
|Outstanding Orchestrations||Bruce Coughlin||Nominated|
|Outstanding Costume Design||Catherine Zuber||Won|
|Outstanding Sound Design||Brian Ronan||Nominated|
|Outstanding Wigs and Hair||David Brian Brown||Won|
|Drama League Award||Outstanding Production of a Broadway or Off-Broadway Musical||Nominated|
|Outer Critics Circle Award||Outstanding Actress in a Musical||Christine Ebersole||Nominated|
|Outstanding Costume Design||Catherine Zuber||Won|
|Outstanding Lighting Design||Kenneth Posner||Nominated|
- Jones, Chris. ” ‘War Paint’: Elizabeth Arden, Helena Rubinstein and American beauty” Chicago Tribune, June 24, 2016
- Mellini, Michael. “Applying War Paint: An Acclaimed Creative Team Comes Together for the World Premiere Musical” goodmantheatre.org, May 13, 2016
- Gans, Andrew. “Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole Apply War Paint, Starting Tonight”, playbill.com, June 28, 2016
- Viagas, Robert. “The Verdict: See How Critics Reviewed LuPone/Ebersole ‘War Paint’ in Chicago” Playbill, July 18, 2016
- Gans, Andrew. ” War Paint’s Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole Find Their Leading Men” Playbill, April 15, 2016
- Gans, Andrew. Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole Apply ‘War Paint’ on Broadway, Starting March 7″ Playbill, March 7, 2017
- Viagas, Robert. “Full Cast Announced for Patti LuPone-Christine Ebersole ‘War Paint’ “ Playbill, January 2017
- Gans, Andrew. ” ‘War Paint’, Starring Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole, Moves Up Broadway Closing Date” Playbill, October 13, 2017
- CNN, Chloe Melas. “Tony Awards 2017: ‘Great Comet’ and ‘Hello, Dolly!’ lead the way”. CNN. Retrieved 2017-05-02.
- ” War Paint Broadway” ibdb.com, retrieved March 8, 2017
- “War Paint” goodmantheatre.org, accessed July 4, 2016
- Marks, Peter. “Much-anticipated musical with Patti LuPone, Christine Ebersole opens in Chicago” The Washington Post, July 19, 2016