“She’s coming, she’s coming…she’s here!”
The rivalry between beauty moguls Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden has proven a rich one for theatrical exploitation, impressively so given that the pair never actually met. So though the UK got the play Madame Rubinstein and the US got the musical War Paint, both had to find their way into creating a narrative that somehow brings them together whilst respecting their individual strengths.
I’m not so sure John Misto’s play achieved that, despite the best efforts of Miriam Margoyles and Frances Barber but on the evidence of the cast recording, I think War Paint (currently running at the Nederlander), with book by Doug Wright, music by Scott Frankel, and lyrics by Michael Korie, with the mighty Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole at the helm gets a darned sight closer.
That it achieves by balancing the stories of each woman, drawing the parallels between their experiences and pulling them together just the moments of key emotional intensity. As one might expect from two titans of the American musical theatre, these duets are to die for – the ruefulness of ‘If I’d Been A Man’, the scorching Act 1 closer ‘Face to Face’ with those harmonies!, and the finale of ‘Beauty in the World’.
Frankel’s score is very much in the old school Broadway mould and is thus perfectly suited to the task at hand. These are bold brassy songs tailor-made for bold brassy performers and it shows – the contrasting but complementary 11 o’clock numbers (of course they get one each!) plus the finale creates one of the best final quarters of a show in recent memory. The heartbreaking intensity of Ebersole’s ‘Pink’, the wry observations of LuPone’s ‘Forever Beautiful’, this is a cracking record of what looks to be a cracking show.