Theater Assessment: Scattered Brush Strokes of Beauty in Battle Paint
The remaining 1/2 hour or so of War Paint, the beguiling however frustrating new musical about Beauty legends Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden, is just about everything you could need from a Broadway show. The two leads — Patti LuPone as Rubinstein and Christine Ebersole as Arden — each get a suitable, perfectly conceived solo: “For all time Lovely” for LuPone and “Red” for Ebersole. Then comes a rueful duet finale (“Beauty within the World”) to finish the arc of their double biography with some dual-engine vocalizing.
Strokes of Beauty
This sequence is preceded by means of a similarly first-rate one in which the empires we’ve seen them build over a long time begin to crumble in the face of latest tendencies in Splendor and marketing: Arriviste Charles Revson introduces his blockbuster 1955 product line in a swell production wide variety known as “Fire and Ice.” (“You placed the Fireplace with the ice, what do you have?” scoffs LuPone in an outrageous Polish accent. “A puddle!”) In among, there’s a music for the men who symmetrically betrayed The two titans: Harry Fleming, Rubinstein’s commercial enterprise manager who defected to Arden, and Tommy Lewis, Arden’s wholesale supervisor — and husband — who defected to Rubinstein. Their swaggering duet, which Douglas Sills and John Dossett tear into like raptors, is an indignant satire-cum-eulogy for the kind of women they served, and the kind of men who would serve them: It’s known as “Dinosaurs.”
If five excellent numbers in a row can’t make an extraordinary musical, possibly that satire-cum-elegy need to be for the musical theater itself. Have we stepped forward to the factor that complex tales can not be squeezed into the format of conventional big-scale Broadway enjoyment? Or is the trouble best that this story can’t? Because for all of the intelligence, sophistication, and sheer expertise involved — LuPone and Ebersole are in top form — Battle Paint keeps falling between an older version of storytelling and a brand new one, in no way fully hiking its way out of the distance. The issue is constructed into the fabric’s DNA: The display changed into “inspired with the aid of” a book (also referred to as Conflict Paint) and a documentary (The Powder and the glory) that each makes hay of the magnificent chiaroscuro of The two girls’ lives. every became born poor: short, brunette Chaja Rubinstein in a Krakow slum; tall, blond Florence Nightingale Graham on a hardscrabble Ontario farm. every become an immigrant, and each reimagined her résumé (Galician princess; country-club WASP) to lend cachet to Beauty merchandise that has been formerly the extraordinary province of prostitutes and actresses. every became immensely wealthy as the leader govt of a business enterprise bearing her very own call — a surpassing rarity for women of that generation. And even apart from their guy issues, they each persisted backlashes for breaking new ground, frequently in the form of reject
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ion from the social class (and clubs and co-ops) they had worked so tough and long to enroll in.
The surprise and tension of those parallels and symmetries, blended with the implacable enmity among the girls, feels like a remarkable organizing precept. And possibly it is, for a work of journalism. but for a musical, the reality that the actual girls never met, and had whole lives well beyond the parts that had been parallel, poses hassle after problem. The most obvious are: How do you structure the tale so that the leads don’t seem like in separate suggests? Musicals have had dual female protagonists earlier than: Wicked and Chicago comes to thoughts. but in each of these shows, The two leads were engaged inside the equal drama on the identical time, and one become dominant. Dominance became now not a possibility in Battle Paint, given the casting, and the authors — the playwright Doug Wright and the songwriting crew of Scott Frankel and Michael Korie — seem to have used a stopwatch to ensure they remained in compliance. (LuPone and Ebersole every have 3 solo songs; they sing collectively in eight others.) As an end results in the structure quick turns into a chunk monotonous, with alternating scenes of every female facing versions at the identical hassle as the other. Now and again the scenes interpenetrate or collide, but even those fall into a sample, as whilst Arden hides in her booth at the St. Regis as Rubinstein arrives at lunch in her adjoining one, and later, vice versa. these close to misses seem gimmicky however at the least go away you looking extra, which is part of what makes the finishing, whilst the women subsequently (if fictionally) meet, so delicious. but it takes two hours to get them there.
Basically telling lifestyles tales facet via aspect, Struggle Paint spends loads of time that might be put to higher use, in a one-of-a-kind display, by way of delving deeper into the secondary characters or with the aid of exploring extra significantly the social and political surroundings wherein the ladies operated. As it’s miles, Wright must in shape complex multiyear traits like the function of cosmetics in International Conflict II into the very narrow confines of brief scenes that take region at simply one second in time. This reaches an almost absurd, pre–Golden Age degree of condensation because the display fishes around for a crisis to convey down the first-act curtain and may only come up with the 1938 congressional research into the cosmetics enterprise’s mystery ingredients. Rubinstein accuses Arden of the usage of “the same schmutz” in her Arden skin tonic as in her grooming lotion for horses; Arden accuses Rubinstein of hiding the truth that her flagship Valle cream is made from rendered lamb fat. A senator upbraids them every in one sentence and instantaneously passes some fact-in-labeling laws. What took 5 years to play out in Washington takes simply a couple of minutes at the Nederlander; that is some rendered lamb fat in itself.
However, at the least LuPone and Ebersole, each gets a fantastic new Catherine Zuber outfit for the scene and any other quality quantity with the aid of Frankel and Korie. Indeed, the outstanding costumes and the score filled with actual theater songs are as desirable as Broadway receives. Frankel unearths masses of imaginative methods to apply length pastiche, in this example starting from operetta giddiness to Bernstein angst, to specific the power of the girls’ ambition and explore the undercurrents in their melancholy. Clearly, he writes to the presence of his leading ladies, giving LuPone masses of beef and sharp angles and Ebersole a series of lengthy-line areas that preserve moving keys as though unable to locate an area to relaxation. The singing that consequences is nearly too rich to be believed. And what a pleasure it’s far to be hit by way of the fusillade of conventional (and accurate) Broadway rhyming with which Korie loads his lyrics. those are not just the laugh, uptempo kind, however, the type that chews with perception. In an unhappy, contemplative duet referred to as “If I’d Been a person,” he nails the everlasting predicament of the businesswoman in a nifty couplet: “a man can be an absent discern. / Stray the way a woman aren’t.” Warfare Paint is studded with such irreducible observations.
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