REVIEW: War Paint - Original Broadway Cast

Recording Cover War Paint has a pedigree that most Broadway shows can only dream of — and yet I am disappointed to report that the Original Broadway Cast recording is uneven, and at times laughable (and not in the good way). That being said, there are a few shining moments, mostly thanks to the show's leading ladies Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole.

Ebersole and LuPone play cosmetic entrepreneurs Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubinstein respectively, and do so with aplomb. The very real historical rivalry between these titans of beauty gives both actresses an abundance of material to draw on, and they don't skimp on the delivery.

The show reunites the creative team from Grey Gardens that shot its star Ebersole straight into the arms of the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical (both she and LuPone are nominated this year for War Paint). War Paint has music by Scott Frankel with lyrics by Michael Korie, book by Doug Wright, and is directed by Broadway powerhouse Michael Greif. An absolute embarrassment of riches. And yet…

The ensemble numbers in general, and the opening number "Best Face Forward" in particular, are very generic, and while I understand what they are going for — a sort of Kay Thompson "Think Pink" situation—the music and lyrics are painfully pedestrian.

Act I is particularly poor, but perks up halfway through with the first duet between LuPone and Ebersole, the Beyoncé inspired "If I'd Been a Man". The lyrics are somewhat predictable, but still, sadly, all too relevant. Act I concludes with the quite lovely "Face to Face", a duet that showcases the voices of both leading ladies, and when they harmonize, the hairs on your arm stand up.

Act II punishes us with more ensemble numbers that are a variation on the theme of "your husband will only love you if you are beautiful". I will admit that the song "Necessity is the Mother of Invention" about how Rubinstein and Arden addressed rationing during the war has some amusing moments. The number "Dinosaurs" that is performed by the men in the women's lives is ludicrously bad.

By far the best song on the album is "Pink" sung by Ebersole towards the end of Act II. It is a beautifully crafted song, and her voice is impeccable. It's a song about love and loss and the sacrifices we make to achieve our goals. It is absolutely wonderful and heartbreaking. Towards the end of the song, Ebersole channels her inner Elaine Stritch and belts the word "Pink!" several times with such authority that I felt compelled to RISE! Brava!

I enjoyed the last four tracks of the album the most, beginning with "Pink" and followed by LuPone's "Forever Beautiful", a solo number about how Rubinstein will never die as long as the paintings of her survive. The two women then join forces with "Beauty in the World" and the finale, both shining examples of how to highlight the incredible vocal instruments of Ebersole and LuPone. If only the entire album could achieve these heights.


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