War Paint tells the story of two competing cosmetics empires in the first half of the 20th century and the glass ceilings shattered by the female entrepreneurs Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubenstein.
Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole Star in Rivalry Musical
On March 7, 2017, War Paint began previews at the Nederlander Theatre, ahead of its opening night scheduled for April 6, 2017. The musical has a book by Doug Wright (Grey Gardens, I Am My Own Wife), music by Scott Frankel (Grey Gardens, Falsettos, Happiness), and lyrics by Michael Korie (Grey Gardens, Far From Heaven, Doctor Zhivago). The show is based on the true story of 20th century female entrepreneurs Elizabeth Arden (played by Christine Ebersole) and Helena Rubinstein (played by Patti LuPone), who were rivals in the cosmetics industry throughout the 1930s to 1960s. Despite their combative history, these two women also shared a unique history of shattering glass ceilings for woman entrepreneurs in American society. Elizabeth Arden grew up in a farming household in Canada, but built a business (named after herself, Elizabeth Arden) that appealed to the upper-class. Meanwhile, Helena Rubenstein, a Jewish woman from Poland, developed cosmetic products that promised an exotic look with an emphasis on science. Both individuals assumed the traditionally masculine role of running a business, while creating products for women, by women.
Excellent Reviews from the Goodman Theatre Premiere
War Paint had its world premiere at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago in the summer of 2016. That production had a sell-out run that broke records, becoming the most successful show in the Goodman Theatre’s history. The musical is directed by Michael Greif, who directed the Goodman production and has gone on to direct the Broadway production. Greif’s many directorial credits include Grey Gardens, Rent, If/Then, and Next to Normal. In helming this production, Greif reunites with the creative team of Grey Gardens, including Wright, Frankel, and Korie. The choreographer is Tony Award winner Christopher Gattelli, one of the busiest working choreographers on Broadway today. As for the all star cast, Patti Lupone’s many credits include her Tony nominated run in Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, her Tony Award winning role in Gypsy, her Tony nominated turn in the 1988 production of Anything Goes, her Tony winning role in the 1980 production of Evita, and her Tony nominated role in the 1976 production of The Robber Bridegroom. As for Christine Ebersole, she has won Tony Awards for her roles in the 2001 production of 42nd Street, as well as the 2006 production of Grey Gardens. The cast also includes Tony nominee John Dossett as Arden’s husband and chief marketing officer Tommy Lewis, in addition to Tony nominee Douglas Sills as Harry Fleming, Rubenstein’s confidant and ally.
Masters of Self-Invention and Stories of Sacrifice
The entrepreneurs Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubenstein were unique in more ways than just their early success for women in business. Both ladies had humble roots, and both were brilliant innovators who became masters of self-invention. In effect, they were the first major female entrepreneurs not just in the cosmetics industry, but in America as a whole. Beyond their individual ascents, their fierce competition in a rivalry that lasted 50 years was one of the major motivators of the cosmetics industry as we know it today. In a world dominated by men, these women were able to build empires. Their stories traverse from the Congressional halls in Washington, D.C. to the glamorous shops of New York City’s Fifth Avenue. In his review of the Goodman Theatre production, Ben Brantley of The New York Times called LuPone and Ebersole “deliciously paired,” and Chris Jones of the Chicago Tribune called it a “promising new musical.” In any case, the record-breaking ticket sales speak volumes, and this musical that took Chicago by storm is now up and running on Broadway.