The Revolutionary Showtune For Today

William Cortez-Statham

  • OnStage New York Columnist

When Grey Gardens first arrived on Broadway in the fall of 2006, many theatregoers were skeptical of its subject matter: the real-life story of the Beales (real life aunt and cousin to First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy) and their crumbling lives and estate in the East Hamptons. The documentary offered a rare glimpse into the lives of a crumbling dynasty and made many American's in the 1970's wonder how American royalty could fall so far from grace.

However, through the majestic score of Scott Frankel with lyrics by Michael Korie and a heartwrenching book by Doug Wright, the Beales came to life once again in splendid glory and garnered some of the most prestigious awards of the Broadway season that year. Time Magazine called it "the #1 show to come out in 2006." The show also reminded us of the subtle power of it's Tony Award-winning star, Christine Ebersole, who played dual roles and garnered the Drama League Award in 2006 for Performance of the Year. Ben Brantley, in his review for the New York Times, gave what is perhaps one of the most glowing reviews ever to be bestowed upon a Broadway leading lady, calling Ms. Ebersole's performance, "one of the most gorgeous ever to grace a musical."

As it did with the plot of Grey Gardens, composer Scott Frankel seems to have an intellectual fascination with strong leading ladies at the forefront of carefully structured musicals. He also seems to have formed quite the bond with his former leading lady, Christine Ebersole, as she is now co-starring alongside the queen of the Broadway musical (Tony Award-winner Patti LuPone) in War Paint, currently playing through August 21st, 2016 at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago.

This time, however, Christine is tasked with playing Elizabeth Arden, one of the first female industry leaders in the cosmetics world. She was, in her time, also one of the wealthiest women in the world. Her fashions and cosmetic lines helped to transform an entire society of women in the early part of the 20th century. Her counterpart, LuPone, plays Helena Rubenstein, also a cosmetics giant at the turn of the century. As one of the wealthiest women in the world and leader in women's fashion and cosmetics but with a wholly different background (coming in at 4 feet 10 inches tall and immigrating as a staunch Jewish woman from Poland), she too dominated the cosmetic industry and was obsessed with being immortalized by the likes of Dali and Picasso. 

So why these two women? The vicious sparks flew between the two through their ongoing rivalry. Of particular note is that both women apparently never met, even though they worked within blocks of each other in NYC. Both social climbing-women also died within 18 months of each other. If Grey Gardens supplied the rough dichotomy between mother and daughter, War Paint supplies us with it's counterpart in the world of cosmetics. What more could you want in a musical than dueling divas, at the top of their theatrical game, giving nuanced, resplendent performances?

And thus here we are with two potential masterpieces (as I believe they will both be looked upon in the future) by the same team of Frankel, Korie, and Wright possibly coming into NYC simultaneously. How is this possible? Because we also just received a critically acclaimed revival of Grey Gardens, currently playing at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles, starring Tony Award-nominee Rachel York and Tony Award-winner Betty Buckley that opened July 13th. Rumors have already started circulating about a Broadway transfer for this production of Grey Gardens (Charles McNulty of the L.A. Times stated in his review "'s not too soon to contemplate a Broadway revival of 'Grey Gardens,' and this production has certainly found the right leads") is most definitely in the cards. War Paint, consequently, also seems to be gearing towards a future home on Broadway, given the magnitude and star power of its two Tony Award-winning stars. 

Could we see two Frankel/Korie musicals on Broadway in the same season? Time will tell. But if there is the divine, as Edith sings in Grey Gardens "times rushes by, memories fade, dreams never do..."