As far as Broadway veteran Christine Ebersole was concerned, the chance to star in the upcoming Goodman Theatre production of “War Paint” was “really a no-brainer.” After all, the group behind the musical “was the same team that did ‘Grey Gardens,'” said the Chicago native, calling from New York recently. “On top of that I get to work with my great friend Patti LuPone. … And it’s all being launched at the Goodman Theatre in my hometown!”
“Grey Gardens,” the Broadway show that brought Ebersole her second Tony Award, was about the eccentric lives of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’ aunt and cousin, Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale and Edith Bouvier Beale, known as “Big Edie” and “Little Edie.” The name of the musical came from the crumbling mansion in East Hampton, New York, and Ebersole played the dual roles of mother and daughter in the show.
“War Paint,” slated to have its world premiere at the Goodman June 28 to Aug. 7, will star Ebersole as cosmetics icon Elizabeth Arden, and LuPone as Arden’s lifelong rival, Helena Rubinstein — herself another mogul in the world of beauty products.
“I’m very excited about all of this. I really am looking forward to beginning rehearsals with Patti, but that won’t happen until May,” said Ebersole.
When told that Arden always insisted in being called “Miss Arden” — by virtually everyone she knew — Ebersole laughed. “From everything I’ve studied and read about her, that certainly fits!”
To prepare for the role, the actress said she did ampe research. “I’ve looked at a lot of videos and read some books. Of course, the show is based on the original book, ‘War Paint.’ … I also watched the documentary ‘The Powder and the Glory,” and I’m currently reading yet another book on Elizabeth Arden,” added Ebersole.
In the process of her research, the actress says discovered a number of interesting facts about not only Arden, but also Rubinstein and the women’s relationship — or rather lack thereof. “Here you had these two amazing women who were truly in the vanguard of women in the business world, and yet they never met in real life.” Ebersole agreed that the intense competitiveness between the two women may have largely contributed to them avoiding a potential meeting.
“They were truly ahead of their time. It was a man’s world who controlled the cosmetics business before them. They revolutionized all that. Let’s face it, back when they got started, ‘nice women’ didn’t ever wear makeup. That was reserved only for actresses — on the stage or in the movies — and … prostitutes!” said Ebersole with a huge guffaw.
“No, nice women did not wear makeup, but Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubinstein changed that. They tied it, in a sense to women’s suffrage.”
Along with the challenges of tackling a new role, Ebersole also loves the fact “War Paint” may bring back to life the personalities of these two groundbreaking business women.
“Today, I think younger people only think of Arden and Rubinstein as brands. It will be nice to flesh out the women behind those labels.”
Yet, before Ebersole tackles “War Paint” which “we definitely hope we’ll be taking to Broadway, after Chicago,” the actress and singer will be teaming up with good friend and cabaret mainstay Ann Hampton Callaway.
“I always have such fun with Ann, whenever we get together,” said Ebersole. The two women will jointly be performing 5 p.m. Saturday at the 36th annual Trustee Benefit and Gala for Dominican University in River Forest.
“We’re both New Trier girls and we both have such an affection for the Great American Songbook,” added Ebersole, promising the duo would be performing some of the great musical classics audiences have cherished over the years.
“I know it will be fantastic,” said Ebersole enthusiastically. “Ann is so creative. She’s always fun to play with and i know we’re going to deliver songs people will love.”
Posted 2:00 p.m. March 8, 2016