Past Reviews

Broadway Reviews

War Paint

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray - April 6, 2017

War Paint Book by Doug Wright. Music by Scott Frankel. Lyrics by Michael Korie. Inspired by War Paint by Lindy Woodhead and The Powder & the Glory by Ann Carol Grossman and Arnie Reisman. Directed by Michael Greif. Choreographed by Christopher Gattelli. Music Director Lawrence Yurman. Orchestrations by Bruce Coughlin. Scenic design by David Korins. Costume design by Catherine Zuber. Lighting design by Kenneth Posner. Sound design by Brian Ronan. Wig design by David Brian Brown. Makeup design by Angelina Avallone. Cast: Patti LuPone, Christine Ebersole, John Dossett, Douglas Sills, Barbara Jo Bednarczuk, Patti Cohenour, Mary Ernster, Tom Galantichm David Girolmo, Joanna Glushak, Chris Hoch, Mary Claire King, Steffanie Leigh, Erik Liberman, Barbara Marineau, Donna Migliaccio, Stephanie Jae Park, Angel Reda, Jennifer Rias, Tally Sessions.
Theatre: Nederlander Theatre, 208 West 41st Street between 7th and 8th Avenues
Tickets: Ticketmaster

Ebersole, LuPone, and the cast
Photo by Joan Marcus

The writers are clearly trying to tell a story using the musical and theatrical languages of the time (Elizabeth's numbers have a more conventional, easy-listening ring, whereas Helena's have Eastern-European echoes), but their inert, inept execution ensures it remains grounded. A more free-form, metaphorical approach, perhaps along the lines of "concept" shows like A Chorus Line, Chicago, or Pippin, might have ratcheted up the excitement while also improving efficiency. (A deeper focus on Christopher Gattelli's deliciously pointed dances wouldn't hurt; given its flabby structure, this War Paint is about an hour too long.) When everything must be said twice, usually in succession, plodding is inevitable. Communicating the spirit of the saga is more important from the audience than exact equity between the leading ladies that seems to have been the primary concern.

Considering the circumstances, Broadway stalwarts Dossett and Sills provided astoundingly good support, even if their thankless characters (and especially their second-act duet "Dinosaurs") couldn't be more drab, and, as mentioned, the show looks tops. David Korins's swank scenery is raw upscale style, rendered in great shocks of pink (for Elizabeth) and blue (for Helena); Catherine Zuber's costumes are a parade of clingy, eye-grabbing designs across a dizzying variety of tart genres (all of which make a return appearance in the finale); and Kenneth Posner's lights effortlessly establish Fifth Avenue society, downtown sleaze, boardroom drudgery, and everything in between.

They've captured the look and feel of a bygone New York so adroitly that you might well find yourself paying more attention to the sets and the clothes than the plot—they certainly pack more surprises and color. But be careful: You might miss Ebersole or LuPone demonstrating how stars, properly utilized, can find humanity anywhere. They're brimming with life and energy, devouring every second in pursuit of making sense of two women who were devoted to opening doors for themselves and those who came after. Their stories are worth telling and worth listening to, but not in the tedious form War Paint so soullessly delivers them.

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