There were a whole lot of wars occurring on stage at War Paint. The central “war” occurred over four decades between the two dueling make-up titans: Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubinstein. But the other wars fought on stage were just as divisive.
These women designed products they claimed would fight a war against the cruel, but inevitable process of aging. We saw the war that all women wage with themselves to hold on to their youth — that was used by Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden to promote their products. These two titans waged a war against a society that did not see it fit for a woman to dominate in business. There was the literal war (WWII) when they had to determine how to forge ahead while respecting the sacrifices being made by their country. The characters fought the war between adapting to the changes that time introduces versus staying true to your vision. The women questioned their life choices, fighting the internal war of career versus family. In the end there was the war of the two women looking back on their lives, wondering whether their visions had paved the way or put up roadblocks to the women following in their footsteps.
And finally there was me with my own internal war of wanting to love this show and celebrate these two amazing Broadway talents, but being left a little flat by the performance. It was a good, but not riveting show. In the end I stood up and applauded anyway. So did much of the female dominated audience, but my seat mates stayed firmly planted in their seats.
As my fellow theater friends know, I stole a philosophy from my friend Jennifer Lehner who only stands up when the show is really outstanding and worthy of a standing ovation. Happily this spring I have been leaping out of my seat quite a bit in sincere appreciation of what I have just seen. I did not love War Paint, but I broke Jen’s rule and stood up anyway out of respect for it’s two stars: Patti Lupone and Christine Ebersole. They are to Broadway what Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden were in the makeup industry: Legends. I imagine in this capacity the actresses must have fought many wars on behalf of the art they wanted to represent. So I stood and smiled and clapped. Bravo Ladies. Bravo. And thank you for continuing the fight.