On April 21, 2017, I had the most wonderful pleasure of witnessing two of Broadway’s most iconic performers play two of the most iconic women of the makeup industry. Patti Lupone as Helena Rubinstein and Christine Ebersole as Elizabeth Arden.
Upon purchasing tickets from TKTS at Lincoln Center, I was informed that Patti had been out of the show for the past few performances and it wasn’t a guarantee that she would be in the show tonight. Still, I took my chances even though I knew it was a possibility she would not be in because it was her birthday. I had faith and figured that I would at least see a new musical about strong powerful women.
There’s a rule I heard about once or twice, that if a lead will be out of show, two of three things need to happen: a notice must be posted on the board the audience sees upon entering the theatre, a flyer must be put inside the playbills, or an announcement must be made over the PA before curtain. None of these happened, but I would not believe anything until I saw her with my own eyes. And there she was, Patti Lupone in all her glory, commanding a stage like the legend she is.
The audience erupted with applause and cheers when Christine Ebersole and Patti Lupone took the stage. We all must have felt the profound energy they exude upon making their entrance. They were absolutely impossible to take your eyes off of.
Christine Ebersole’s performance was flawless. She portrayed Elizabeth Arden with such poise and class. A strong woman who understood the difficulties she was up against, making makeup a common household item rather than one saved for the stage, film, and prostitutes. When, towards the end of the second act, Arden sings about her board’s desire to step down, Ebersole showed such passion and pain for Arden who was being told subtly that she was only wanted for her name and her signature color, pink. This was the part of the show that made me feel the most emotion. For a woman to work so hard her entire life and only be summed up by a color has got to be the most dreadful experiences a woman can have.
Patti Lupone portrayed a different type of woman that Helena Rubinstein was. She was a woman who came from nothing, who worked hard to get passed the barriers set by society concerning her look and religion, strong in different ways. Both of these women had to break past the gender stereotypes and glass ceilings of the time, persevering through the second World War and helping America in what ways they could to show their alliance. Patti sounded so wonderful in her singing, though it was hard to understand. She spoke with an accent like Helena Rubinstein had, also singing in it which, when mixed with the music, ended up a cacophony. However, Lupone brought humor and wit and power to the stage, that I feel blessed to have witnessed.
The sets were so intricate and the costumes reflecting the time so that the audience could differentiate between the 30 years the show takes place. There’s a definite stylistic difference between the Arden and Rubinstein salons, Arden’s being more feminine and Rubinstein’s being more clinical.
My only critical comment about the show is that the fact that they were women was brought up quite a bit. Hear me out for a second. Obviously, we all know the hurdles women had to go through then and continue to go through, bringing it up over and over again is just redundant. We know these women were powerful and commanded companies successfully, but you can show their power without talking about that gender gap. Personally, I believe that only widens the divide and makes it a bigger issue by enforcing the idea that women were/are not as powerful as men. Clearly, they are and can be.
This show was the epitome of a lavish Broadway musical, the sets, the costumes, the legends on stage are what the show really has going for it.