Review: War Paint

I began my Labor Day Weekend with a performance of the musical War Paint on Friday evening. I had minimal expectations because, honestly, I hadn’t heard much buzz about it at all. I knew Patti (Lupone) and Christine (Ebersole) would be fabulous, so that’s really all the convincing I needed to go see it, and I knew it was about some rivalry between Helena Rubenstein and Elizabeth Arden but not much else. Douglas Sills was out that night and Chris Hoch stepped in for him. I wasn’t there to see Sills, so I couldn’t care less.

I have to say that I really enjoyed the story the most (Doug Wright did a great job with the book). Helena Rubenstein is my new hero, although she was portrayed a bit more punk rock in the script than in real life (for example: she had kids in real life which were never mentioned). We began in the 1930’s when Rubenstein moved back to New York City and Elizabeth Arden finds out from her associates and: drama. Arden’s salon is the ultimate destination for feminine pampering (and everything is “Arden pink”) and Rubenstein sells herself as beauty + science. It was because of the questionable ingredients they both used in the “age-defying” products that the FDA decided all ingredients must be printed on the bottle (thank you!).

Helena Rubenstein was, at one point, one of the richest women on earth and attempted to make an all-cash offer on a penthouse triplex on Park Avenue. When she was denied board approval because she was Jewish, she instead bought the entire building and lived in the triplex for 35 years until she died (per Wikipedia).

Elizabeth Arden’s first marriage falls apart in part because she won’t give her husband any credit for the sales work he’s doing. She says, “The moment I give you [her husband] credit is the moment I lose all of mine.” So true.

These two women detested each other and only met once.  They died within months of one another, too.

The music was fine – as in I don’t remember hating it. The dancing was also fine. But really, everyone was there to see LuPone and Ebersole and they were AMAZING. They are worth any price of admission (within reason, unless you’re Rubenstein-esque levels of rich then by all means, buy premium tickets). You should put “seeing two powerhouse women portray two powerhouse women onstage” on your bucket list right now because OH MAN.

War Paint is your standard length – two acts, two and a half hours long, but I never felt like it dragged. It was too much of a pleasure watching those two badasses onstage to check my watch.

And finally, I’ll leave you with a photo of Rubenstein’s childhood home in Krakow that I took last year while I was in Poland. (It’s the little green house.)

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So, you have heard about this debacle last Wednesday night. As it turned out, Matt had invited me to see Shows For Days with him the following night and oh, was it a treat to be at that performance. Patti came out in street clothes before the show and addressed the audience as herself, to much applause and support.

And then the show started.

It was a semi-autobiographical story about Douglas Carter Beane’s early days in community theatre in Pennsylvania. It was full length – two acts – though it didn’t feel long at all. It was entertaining and somewhat predictable at times. 

It was lovely to see Michael Urie onstage again as Car (Beane’s character) ad of course, who doesn’t love a good diva performance by Patti Lupone? No one, that’s who. Also in the cast were Dale Soules, Zoe Winters, Lance Coadie Williams, and Jordan Dean. 

There were lots of laughs and maybe a tear or two at the end. If nothing else, Shows For Days is a lovely piece of theatre history. 

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True story: When I was out of work briefly in 2009, I sent out an email to all the industry types I knew and asked if they needed any freelance help. A producer I’d met in college wrote back and said yes. She also lived quite close to me on the UWS. It was kismet! What was she so busy working on? Patti Lupone and Mandy Patinkin’s upcoming concert tour.  I ran minor errands (like returning Lupone’s shoes, etc) but then one day the producer called and asked if I could pick something up from her apartment and hop on a train out to Stony Brook, on Long Island, to the Staller Center and help with tech rehearsal for their first concert.  Well, yes, of course. I grew up in Stony Brook so it was easy to get out there.  I was picked up at the train station and driven to the Staller Center where I ran minor errands again and then stood in for Ms. Lupone when they tech’ed songs like “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina.”  I even got to throw my arms up.

This, of course, isn’t in Lupone’s memoir but it’s my first memory when I think of her.  I never did get to meet her unfortunately though because I stupidly didn’t stay for the concert (I had a date, or something stupid that night).  I saw her performances in both the 2009 revival of Gypsy and Sweeney Todd (though I hated that revival), though I never really garnered an appreciation for her until reading her memoir (pictured above).

It took me several chapters to get in to but after her work with The Acting Company, I started to become more interested in what she had to say. Don’t get me wrong, the fact that she was part of the first drama class at Juilliard is great, but it wasn’t incredibly fascinating to read about.  I had no idea she was such a “working actor,” as it’s often called, and I also had no idea she’d been  screwed over so many times by Andrew Lloyd Webber, among others.  If ALW hadn’t been conniving, I would have seen Lupone as Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard in 1994 instead of Glenn Close.  I loved reading about her method when she got into it, and her immense appreciation for the theatre as an artist.  

I’d recommend this book for any theatre person.  Click here to watch a video of Lupone reading a passage from the book at Borders in Columbus Circle last year when she began her book tour.  Next time I have the opportunity to see Lupone perform, I’m pretty sure I’ll be paying better attention when she’s onstage.

(photo via)

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In March 2009, during my two month stay in the world of the unemployed, I would periodically send emails to people in the business that I knew telling them that yes, I was still unemployed and if they knew of anything to please feel free to send my resume to everyone and anyone.  Well, one producer who I’d been introduced to in college replied and said she was busy getting ready to go on tour with Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin, and she needed help with errands and such before the tour took off.  The first stop on the tour was the Staller Center in my hometown of Stony Brook, so when she emailed me and told me that she wanted to know if I could take the train out with two small set pieces and a pair of shoes for Ms. LuPone, as well as stay for the tech, I said yes right away.  I ended up staying for the tech and standing in for LuPone when they tech’d her songs, including Don’t Cry For Me Argentina (and yes, I threw my arms up).  

I’ve seen LuPone in Sweeney Todd, Gypsy and mostly recently Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.  I’m not a die-hard fan of hers, but I’ve always admired her for ability to command a stage, call out audience members for taking pictures, and the fact that she has no problem telling it like it is.  I had intended to wait until her book, Patti LuPone: A Memoir, was published in paperback (I hate hardcover books), but when I heard she was doing a signing and Q&A at the Columbus Circle Borders tonight, I gave in, purchased the book, and stood by as she commanded the crowd of 100 which was packed in within the confines of a tiny corner of Borders.   

She was in a chipper mood, thanked everyone for coming and read three passages to start – one about her Northport High School music teacher (she mentioned NYSSMA and All-State, two things I had a love/hate relationship with in high school), one about her Evita call-back, and the last was about making it onstage, on time by thirty minutes, for her 8pm curtain in the West End production of Sunset Boulevard  after almost not making it onto a plane earlier that day (video can be found here!).  

She talked about the commitment, routine, and discipline it takes to be a working actor in the business and that saying “I want to on Broadway” just isn’t enough.  A British audience member told her there’s an American Idol-esque show on in England for theatre talent and asked if she thought it was a good idea.  She said no, and ranted for a few minutes about how much she detests reality TV saying, “I was watching the Kardashians and trying to figure out WHY!  WHY was I sitting here watching this?  Why did I care?  Who gives a shit?!  Why don’t people turn it off?  Well, I did.”  

She was elegant, honest, and well-spoken.  Everything I would expect out of one of the industry’s leading divas.  Pick up a copy of Patti Lupone: A Memoir, here.