Richard, Stephen, Robert, and I saw *War Paint* on 4/14/17. I didn't give it a particularly strong review, but it stuck in my mind. It bugged me. Clearly there's a lot of talent involved in the show, the creators, the production team, the performers, but it doesn't quite gel. What was wrong? My suspicion was that the story was the problem - - it's just not that interesting a story, it doesn't warrant being told as a big time Broadway musical with two fabulous leading ladies. In hats. But I wasn't sure it was that clear cut. My friend Rebecca expressed interest in seeing it, I stalked my discount ticket website, and I snatched us up two tickets for $50 each. I wanted to give the show another chance, to help me wrap my brain around what was good and what was not.
The show was not any better the second time. I don't feel that I necessarily have a deeper understanding of the problems in the show, but let's say that I have a deeper familiarity with them.
I’ve put together a bullet list of observations below. I think this is the first appearance of a bullet list in one of my reviews - - it’s official, my day job as an Executive Secretary has spilled over into my alter ego of the Divamensch Bloghiste!
The design. The sets, costumes, shoes, hats, wigs, and (yes) the make-up - - all divine.
Much of the music is very good, especially Ebersole’s second act song, “Pink.” Lovely song, perfect for her and perfect for that moment.
The “Fire and ice” number is the best number by far. Sadly it still points out the flatness of the rest of the show.
The audience was rabid for both leading ladies, and, it seemed, for the show in general.
STILL A PROBLEM
The story is not compelling enough for a full-out Broadway musical
Patti Lupone’s accent! Infuriating! I thought of French diction expert Thomas Grubb, who said that, when singing in French, the nasalization of a vowel should only be at about 10%. So the phrase <<un bon vin blanc>> (a good white wine) should have the flavor of the nasalized vowels, it shouldn’t honk like a goose. I imagine that Lupone modeled her accent after recordings of the actual Rubenstein’s voice, but honey, this is the theatre. We need to be able to understand what you’re saying. A 10% Polish accent would have been more than enough. The wig, the jewels, and the attitude can do the rest of the work.
That dinosaur song for the two leading men was humiliating to watch a second time, definitely one of the dumbest things I’ve ever seen onstage.
NEW OBSERVATIONS FROM REBECCA
Both leading ladies have a way of striding onstage, planting their feet, facing forward, and singing. You could overlook this Mermanian deportment in one leading character, but two?
Rebecca thought the “Fire and ice” number was almost as idiotic as the dinosaur number! I’ll quote her: “I thought that one was the laughable one, with the dinosaurs only eking out slightly ahead as worse and more embarrassing.” Clearly this show can’t make up its mind.
The feminist angle is deeply problematic. This is hinted at in the final scene, but not really explored. Either Arden and Rubenstein were early beacons of female power, or they were tools of the patriarchy keeping women in their place. They can’t be both. Can they? My guess is that they were thrilled for their own success, and thought they were helping women out by making them more beautiful, when in fact they were just putting lipstick on the mannequin. I was reminded of a conversation I had with Karen Miller about the *Charlie’s Angels* movies: I said that they presented female empowerment through self-objectification. Karen told me that only works in the movies.