This is a special edition of my Theatre Notes, as I’ve been completely slacking since a trip to Florida interrupted my whole January, and I lost momentum. Sorry! I’ve also been seeing a bunch of off-Broadway plays and a musical, which will all be closed by the time anyone reads my notes anyway, due to their limited runs.
I wanted to write a little extra about this musical than just a tweet, because I had at least five people ask me how it was, so here goes. I saw the first preview, so it’s not fair to “review” it, although they have had out-of-town tryouts. I consider this blog just my notes anyway, an extension of what I might have tweeted. I was also seeing it from the very cheapest rush-ticket seats, near the stage but on the very extreme side of the orchestra seats.
The first thing is that it’s an interesting portrait of two powerful ladies, Elizabeth Arden (Christine Ebersole), and Helena Rubinstein (Patti LuPone), which is great, and not something we see every day. Two of my favourite actresses playing them is even better. It felt like reading a good book (which it is, apparently), or a long magazine story – you come out of it knowing more of the history of these women, and corporate makeup and skin creams, although you’re not necessarily as inspired as you might think. They do some pretty dodgy things, and their business models are not exactly the most ethical. Your opinion on this also probably depends upon how much benefit you personally feel you get from your moisturiser! Making money is the primary objective for many in a capitalist society, so it’s also hard to fault them for it. The most obvious, but entertaining, example of this is when Elizabeth (Arden) takes the advice to split one face cream into day and night creams to double sales.
The second thing is the writing of the book and music itself, and I think I found the music a little less interesting than the story. I love some of the songs, but there are a few which didn’t particularly grab me or move me. The big duet just before the curtain goes down on Act 1 left me in awe. The parallels between the two lives are pretty crazy, and, from what I gather, largely factual, although some embellishments probably make it a little too perfectly aligned. I sometimes have problems with stories that start to feel too neat, or contrived, so the scene near the end had me squirming a little. I should add that the set, and costumes, are all absolutely stunning and lavish, as you’d expect for a show written around the beauty industry.
The third thing is the performances, which I loved. I am a fairly enthusiastic fan of both stars for previous work. Arguably I’ve been a fan of Ebersole since I was about 11 years old thanks to her work in the film Richie Rich! I managed to see a bootleg video of Grey Gardens around 2009. I also felt lucky to see her in Ever After (the musical) last year at Papermill. I’ve gone to see LuPone in cabaret, on Broadway and on DVD (Candide!), and just read her wonderful memoir about a month ago. It was a joyous experience to see them singing separately or, especially, together, as enemies in the story but in perfect synchronisation as performers. They both had depth, and all the emotions, and were also very funny at times. Both the lead men (John Dossett, Douglas Sills) were interesting characters, with a lot of the comedic moments, and sang wonderfully together and separately as well. Given the fact that last night had a healthy standing-room audience, I think there are many coming to see them as performers, before knowing anything about the show, which both did and didn’t quite include me, as my friend had seen it in Chicago, and asked me to come.