And what a shame that Catharine Zuber’s magnificent hats and costumes were worn in the service of a less than deserving musical.
“War Paint” should’ve been grand on every level, and it’s just not. Granted trying to dramatize the story of two woman who hated each other in every way possible sounds good on paper. But in real life, they never met, and so they don’t here. It’s delicious to think of the possibilities, especially with these two magnificent performers, who are at their absolute best here, dramatically and vocally. But alas! The facts, such as they are barely can hold a massive evening about them together.
Talking about “War Paint” is like crying over spilled milk. In fact, that would’ve been a more accurate title. “Spilled Milk”. We should glory in the stupendous performances of two of the greatest actress/singers on this planet. And they are glorious. To see each of them in roles that they more than can get their teeth into is a feast of great acting that we will rarely see again. And flawless, flawless, flawless.
There is nothing audiences enjoy more than a cat fight but since these titans of the powder puff never meet or interact(until the end), it’s like watching two super musicals playing out at the same time. One great story seems like a distraction to the other. Once you get into one saga, you’re snapped back into the other…and so it goes…
And the music is just so-so. There are two stupendous numbers at the end one for each of them.First up, as the play moves to its’ inexorable climax as the women age, is Christine Ebersole’s beautiful/sad reflection of her life in “Pink.” I could listen to that song forever, and probably will. The program lists the number as “Forever Beautiful” but it will always be pink to me.
Followed all too quickly by Patti Lupone’s grande finale “Beauty in the World” as an aging Helena Rubenstein sings an aria to end all arias to the great artists whom she commissioned to paint portraits of her in oils and sketches throughout her long life. Rubenstein herself is vibrantly alive in this mega-number and Lu Pone essays it as if she were Callas herself singing “O Mia Bambino Caro.”
Who could resist these transcendent moments? Unfortunately, we have to slog through nearly two hours of dull to get to the fabulous. But when “War Paint” gets there, it really gets there.