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.
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.”
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.
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
It’s a great time for a feel good musical so The Little Theatre of Alexandria’s production of Anything Goes opened on January 14 to a full house and an enthusiastic audience. The talented cast made the most of Cole Porter’s “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “Let’s Misbehave,” and, of course, “Anything Goes,” songs that are almost a hundred years old but remain timeless.
Mara Stewart and James Maxted
With songs this good, the story takes a back seat. The original book was a collaborative effort by Guy Bolton and P.G. Wodehouse, heavily revised by the team of Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse. Billy Crocker, a young Wall Street broker, is a stowaway aboard an ocean liner bound from New York to London. He’s in love with heiress Hope Harcourt (Tori Garcia), who is engaged to the stuffy British Evelyn Oakleigh. Billy is aided in his quest to win Hope by Reno Sweeney, a nightclub singer, and Moonface Martin, otherwise known as Public Enemy #13. There are high jinks on the high sea including mistaken identities, a con bilking passengers out of money, and, for Billy, time in the brig.
The role of Reno Sweeney always attracts singers with big voices (Patti LuPone, Sutton Foster, and Stephanie J. Block, on Broadway, for example). Mara Stewart, appearing at LTA for the first time, makes the kind of impression that will certainly lead to future roles. Her performance raises the bar and the rest of the cast is quick to respond, including Marshall Cesena (Billy Crocker), Ken Kemp (Moonface Martin) and James Maxted (Sir Evelyn Oakleigh). Cesna and Kemp have a great rapport. Their banter while slap-stick is believable, appropriate for this age-old show. As Moon Face’s girlfriend, Bonnie, Jacqueline Salvador adds comic relief. Reno’s angels, providing excellent backup singing, include Caitlyn Goerner, Ashley Kaplan, Katie Mallory and Elizabeth Spilsbury.
The cast performs “Let’s Step Out.”
Tap dancing fans get their fix with the lively performance of “Let’s Step Out,” featuring the Angels and the sailors played by Michael Gale, Ricardo Coleman, Kurtis Carter and Andrew Sese.
LTA continues to pull out all the stops with its sets, this one depicting the cruise liner, SS American, as well as perfectly detailed state rooms. Bravo to the lighting team for distinguishing day and night. The seven-piece orchestra hits all the right notes without overshadowing the performances.
Photos by Keith Waters for Kx Photography Top photo: Ken Kemp (Moonface Martin), Mara Stewart (Reno Sweeney), Marshall Cesena (Billy Crocker).
“Anything Goes” runs through February 4, 2016 at The Little Theatre of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe Street, Alexandria, VA 22314. For more information, visit www.littletheatre.com or call the Box Office at 703-683-0496.
Jackie Rogers bought her first Chanel suit for “around $600.” As she stood for the first fitting found herself thinking, “It would be nice to work here.” Upon hearing that Chanel needed models, she quickly lined up an interview, “Chanel liked me, hired me on the spot and paid me top dollar,” she said. “I’m the only designer today who ever worked with the great Coco Chanel. From her I learned that fashion doesn’t start with design. Everything comes from fabrication.”
Jackie Rogers, a timeless legend in the fashion world, is one of the last remaining designers to craft custom clothing for individual clients across the country from her atelier in New York City. Rogers likes to say, “I don’t believe in fashion, I believe in style.” That motto is reflected throughout her latest collection, which is made with the timeless elegance that is the signature of the Jackie Rogers brand.
Jackie’s clientele includesPatti LuPone, Christine Baranski, Julianne Moore, Condoleezza Rice, Roberta Flack, Nicole Kidman, Gwyneth Paltrow, Salma Hayek, Courtney Love, and more. Her favorite star studded moment? Jackie Onassis. The best moment was when Jackies she asked her to design seven outfits, one for each day of the week. “I will put a number on it so I don’t have to worry about what to wear,” she said.
Jackie Rogers is designed and manufactured entirely in New York City in its midtown showroom with her collection sold from there (by appointment only), in Palm Beach, Florida boutiques, at select Lord & Taylor retailers across the country and from her website.
Can you point to one event that triggered your interest in your career?
Meeting Chanel. Before I was just carrying on as an actress and model. We loved her, all of the models. There were 12 of us. I went there strictly for a couple of months do to the show and wound up staying for 2 years until I quit. I think Chanel influenced me to become a designer because I would work with her late into the night. She never had one assistant. She was there alone. I came as close to it as anybody else.
What about the fashion industry did you find most appealing?
I love what I do. I love designing clothes. This is what I live for, to design every day. I’m always thinking about it. That’s what makes me happy. What’s unfortunate now is that it is all about money and advertising, and that clothes are being chosen for celebrities without any aesthetic or unique taste.
What steps did you take to begin your education or training?
None. I never studied it or anything. The only thing I studied were men, darling. That’s how I became a menswear designer. Chanel told me not to design for women, I’d go crazy. Just do men’s clothing. So I became a menswear designer. And then finally Bill Blass said you gotta do womenswear, you’re not gonna make a name for yourself unless you do women’s clothing. So, I had to switch to women. When I was a menswear designer, I dressed all of the famous actors like Jack Nicholson, Dustin Hoffman, Tom Jones, and all the singers. I dressed the Beegies, everybody. They all came to me to get their clothing. It was a hot time.
Along the way, were people encouraging or discouraging?
No, very encouraging. I was very fortunate. Francesco Scavullo was a great photographer and he gave me Time Magazine on the cover with Meryl Streep in my clothes. That was when she was coming up in the 70s.
Did you ever doubt your decision and attempt a career change?
When did your career reach a tipping point?
That will never be reached. I think you have to keep moving and going. I don’t want to stop. I will never stop. I love designing.
Can you describe a challenge you had to overcome?
Insecurity. Thinking I wasn’t good enough. I have often questioned myself and then when I see the results I know I did the right thing.
What single skill has proven to be most useful?
Draping. I don’t sketch I drape and I form shapes with my hand on a mannequin.
What accomplishment are you most proud of?
Staying in business through thick and thin, by myself with no outside financing. It’s a miracle.
Any advice for others entering your profession?
They have to not be influenced by anybody else and to go back into the 30s and 40s and see what the great designers did, like, Dior, Chanel, Balenciaga. It’s all about line.