Two of mightiest stage divas in world have returned to Broadway on the same bill. Tony winners Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole star in the new musical “War Paint.” These theater legends have won two Best Actress (Musical) Tonys each: LuPone for “Evita” (1980) and the 2008 revival of “Gypsy,” and Ebersole for the 2001 revival of “42nd Street” and “Grey Gardens” (2007). This year both women will try to snag nominations via the same production.
“War Paint” chronicles the cutthroat rivalry between cosmetic titans Helena Rubenstein (LuPone) and Elizabeth Arden (Ebersole), and provides each leading lady with a meaty awards-bait role. If these actresses are both nominated for their larger than life roles, they will be the first female co-stars to do so since 2004. That year, Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth were both nominated for their turns as Elphaba and Glinda in Stephen Schwartz’s mega-hit musical. Menzel ended up winning her first Tony that night over her co-star.
Landing two lead actress nominations for the same musical isn’t an easy feat, however. Two years ago, Emily Padgett and Erin Davie attempted it for the revival of “Side Show.” Neither woman ended up nominated. Though their performances were formidable, they were given one huge disadvantage: they had to compete separately even though Alice Ripley and Emily Skinner were given a joint nomination slot for the original production.
A more common outcome for a musical with two female leads, is for just one to be nominated. That was the case in 2012, when Jan Maxwell was nominated for her devastating turn as Phyllis. Unfortunately, her co-star Bernadette Peters was shunned by the Tonys for her portrayal of Sally. Peters is quite unlucky in this situation, as she suffered the same outcome for “Into the Woods” in 1988. Despite a now iconic performance as The Witch, the Tonys didn’t recognize her. Joanna Gleason was cited instead for playing The Baker’s Wife and went on to win the Tony.
Another famous example is the still-running 1996 revival of “Chicago.” Producers were able to convince the Oscars that Velma was a supporting role for the film version, but that was not the case on Broadway. BeBe Neuwirth was nominated and won for Roxie Hart, but Ann Reinking was not for playing Velma. The Tonys did manage to honor Reinking in another way: she took home the award for Choreography.
Hope is not entirely lost for Ebersole and LuPone. Previous decades provide several instances where two women showed up in Best Actress for the same musical. For the aforementioned “Chicago,” Chita Rivera and Gwen Verdon were both nominated for the original in 1976. And in the original staging of “Follies,” not only were both Dorothy Collins and Alexis Smith nominated, but Smith managed to take home the trophy.
When a pair of songstresses are both nominated in lead for the same show, one of them wins more often than not. In addition to those mentioned above, this was the case for “Dreamgirls” (winner Jennifer Holliday, nominee Sheryl Lee Ralph), “The Rink” (winner Chita Rivera, nominee Liza Minnelli), “Black and Blue” (winner Ruth Brown, nominee Linda Hopkins), and “Guys and Dolls” (winner Faith Prince, nominee Josie de Guzman). If LuPone and Ebersole are both nominated, does this mean that one of them could take down frontrunner Bette Midler for “Hello, Dolly!”?
The ultimate prize would be a tie in the category to avoid any jealousy between the co-stars. This happened back in 1958, when Thelma Ritter and Verdon both won for”New Girl in Town.” If LuPone and Ebersole can pull off a repeat of that night, it would be one of the most talked-about moments in Tony history.
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