Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.

David Korins

War Paint – Divas Play Divas


According to the New York Times, prestige beauty sales in the United States rose six percent in the year ending in February, tallying $15.9 billion. Most women, it seems, prioritize keeping up appearances despite financial setbacks. The timely subject of War Paint is heated competition between two fabulously successful female entrepreneurs, both cosmetic pioneers.

Helena (Chaja) Rubinstein (1872-1965) came from Poland with homemade beauty recipes and had her first company success in Australia. London and Paris followed before opening a Fifth Avenue Salon in 1915. The lavish establishment featured a restaurant, gym, and rugs by Joan Miró. Rubinstein was an avid collector of art (she also sat for numerous commissioned portraits) and jewelry. The beauty innovator believed in making the most of a woman’s attributes. “There are no ugly women, just lazy ones.”


Patti Lupone

Down the street, Elizabeth Arden’s already established Red Door Salon would, by 1929, be one of 150 in the entrepreneur’s empire. (Florence Nightingale Graham chose Elizabeth to save money on signage and Arden from the name of a farm near her native Canadian home.) Arden innovations included the use of estrogen, makeovers and coordinating colors. It was arguably she who convinced “us” that women could wear makeup and still be ladies. Her motto: “Purity, Grace and Eternal Youth.”

Contrasting the outsider status of dark, diminutive Rubinstein (Patty Lupone) who was rejected by a co-op board because she was Jewish, turned around and bought the building, with blonde, blue-eyed, nouveau riche Arden (Christine Ebersole) who fraternized with socialite clients, makes a natural scenario.  Both women were philanthropists, both were indomitable, short-sighted, and likely as lonely as portrayed. Neither achieved the kind of class acceptance she craved.


Christine Ebersole

Creatives involved have done their homework.  Some of the plot is concocted, certainly trading the important men in their lives didn’t occur. Douglas Still plays Rubinstein’s head of marketing, Harry Fleming, while John Dossett enacts Arden’s husband/head of marketing Tommy Lewis. (Both actors deserve better.) Still, much is accurate and rather interesting. (A litany of cosmetic ingredients might be somewhat curbed.) Watch for the early appearance of a lean, hungry Charles Revson. Two long, heavy handed numbers:  A Fire and Ice television commercial and Lewis taking his wife’s Salon girls out could be easily jettisoned.

The musical takes us from the opening of Rubinstein’s atelier to the end of both careers.


Douglas Sills and John Dossett

Several of this year’s Tony Award aspirants for Best Musical have opened on Broadway with music and lyrics the weak link of elaborate productions. This is one of them. While Doug Wright’s book is grounded, clever, and illuminating, music by  Scott Frankel is bland and repetitive, lyrics by Michael Korie range from congested to cliché.

There are exceptions to both. Elizabeth Arden’s/Ebersole’s  “Pink” which despite a fluffy title becomes the moving eruption of a Valkyrie and the wry “Dinosaurs,” performed by Lewis/Dossett and Fleming/Sills stand out for musicality and expression. Titles like “If I’d Been a Man” and “Beauty in the World” promise much and deliver little.

Christine Ebersole’s Elizabeth Arden is palpably formidable. The actress doles out glimpses of vulnerability that make them all the more effective. Her interpretation of Arden is that of a cold woman. Ebersole is in superb voice.

As Helena Rubinstein, Patti Lupone’s vibrancy is equally forbidding, but her brush stroke is so wide, we see a cartoon. Despite impressively soaring vocals, Lupone is extremely hard to understand when singing. We do, however, feel her desperation.


Helena Rubinstein; Elizabeth Arden (Wikipedia)

Director Michael Greif gives each diva her due with grand entrances and clear-the-stage solos. Book scenes are well crafted. Extreme similarity in music makes it difficult to discern emotion in most vocal performance. Restaurant scenes at The St. Regis Hotel and the men’s two-hander at its King Cole Bar are deft. The ladies’ eating habits are droll.

Choreography by Christopher Gattelli reminds one of 1940 movie musicals. Make of that what you will.

David Korins’ fanciful salons offer evocative backdrop, but the neon signs of each lady’s name are irritating and unnecessary. (They might just as well read: APPLAUSE.)

Catherine Zuber’s Costumes are terrific, especially the hats. When it comes to the leads, color coordination is uncomfortably contrived, however.

Photos by Joan Marcus
Opening: Patti Lupone, Christine Ebersole and The Company

War Paint
Book by Doug Wright
Music by Scott Frankel
Lyrics by Michael Korie
Directed by Michael Greif
Nederlander Theatre
208 West 41st Street

Bandstand – A Simple Tale with Heart


Bandstand is the kind of struggling-Midwest-veterans-make-it-big-in-show-biz story that might’ve starred a young Dan Dailey, a simple tale with a big heart.

It’s 1945. Cue lights, explosive sounds, fallen soldiers. Donny Novitski (Corey Scott) loses his best friend Michael. He returns home to Cleveland emotionally shattered with plans to resume life as a musician (pianist). The club in which he performed, however, has hired an 18 year-old. Confident in his talent, Donny applies all over town. (The innocent nature of the piece dictates that he never attempts to find work as anything other than a musician.) “Just Like It Was Before” turns out to be an illusion.


Corey Cott, Laura Osnes

A national contest sponsored by the American Songbook of Popular Music and Bayer Aspirin (do you think they pay for product placement?) offers pie-in-the-sky hope. The winning band will perform their original song in an MGM film. Donny puts together a skeptical group comprised of veterans from every branch of the service. Each recommends another. Each has his own credible, well indicated issues.

Wry, self aware Bassist Davy (Brandon J. Ellis) drinks. Sweet Drummer Johnny (Joe Carroll), a bit slow due to mortar fire, is often high. Trombonist Wayne (Geoff Packard), inordinately stressed about supporting a wife and children and Trumpet Player Nick (Alex Bender) are short tempered; (Nick is also judgmental). Saxophonist Jimmy (James Nathan Hopkins), the only level headed participant, often finds himself acting as peacemaker. Donny is bandleader, vocalist, songwriter, and pianist. He could, as Jimmy points out, use some social skills. These multifaceted actors also sing and play instruments live onstage. Ellis, Carroll, and Packard stand out with  characterization.

mother and daughter

Laura Osnes and Beth Leavel

Wait-you object- where’s the love story? Donny has promised to check up on Michael’s widow, Julia (Laura Osnes), who lives with her mother (the warm, excellent Beth Leavel). Surprise, it turns out she sings! And writes poetry aka lyrics! Though Donny has a secret which might alienate the incipient couple, Julia joins the band. She insists on using her married name out of respect for Michael. (The show brims with patriotism and integrity.) The contest outcome is not as expected for reasons even less predictable. A pretty good plot.

Both Laura Osnes and Corey Cott are fine singers and good actors imbuing their roles with straight from the hip sincerity. One wishes them better luck next time.

Front: Joe Carroll, James Nathan Hopkins, Alex Bender, Geoff Packard; Back: Laura Osnes, Corey Cott, Brandon J. Ellis

Muddy arrangements (Greg Anthony Rassen) of music that lack not only 1940s flavor but actual melody conflict with unoriginal lyrics which neither sync nor sing. (Rob Taylor and Richard Oberacker) In a show about a band! Choreography that shows up outside of actual (skilled) dance numbers, serves to perpetually distract and busy-up the stage. Except for the omnipresent club, David Korins’ Set Design is some of the ugliest I’ve seen, completely discordant with the tone of this story. Paloma Young’s Costumes are almost uniformly drab and unflattering. The book is the best thing about this piece. It has grit, wit and sincerity.

While Director Andy Blankenbuehler works well with his actors, overall action is often a mess. See choreography comment above.

In different hands, this might’ve been a genial, vivacious show with a future in national touring.

Photos by Jeremy Daniel
Opening: Corey Cott, Laura Osnes and The Company

Music by Richard Oberacker
Book & Lyrics by Rob Taylor & Richard Oberacker
Directed by Andy Blankenbuehler
Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre
242 West 45th Street