Review: ‘Mimi le Duck’

Off Broadway musicals this past spring included a tale of five dogs lined up at the crematorium door and another about a loquacious raven living with the undead in a city cemetery. "Mimi le Duck," a self-described "nouveau musical," fits right in with its predecessors. This duck is plumped and ready for roasting.

Off Broadway musicals this past spring included a tale of five dogs lined up at the crematorium door and another about a loquacious raven living with the undead in a city cemetery. “Mimi le Duck,” a self-described “nouveau musical,” fits right in with its predecessors. This duck is plumped and ready for roasting.

“Why must you torment my tender soul, my self-esteem’s a toilet bowl,” goes one song. With lyrics like this, what’s left for a critic to say? “I waltzed with Picasso on polished terrazzo.” “One time at Montmartre, I drank gin with Sartre.” How do you say “vanity production” in French?

Miriam Sanders (aka Mimi le Duck) is a 40ish painter of kitschy ducks from Idaho who uproots her life and moves to Paris to become a real artist. Lyricist-librettist (and presumably producer-backer) Diana Hansen-Young is a 50ish painter — “one of Hawaii’s leading artists,” with prints of her pastels of women in muumuus currently listed on eBay for $3.49 — who uprooted her life and moved to New York to write musicals. Mimi has Ernest Hemingway as muse and guide, with a bandage around his gunshot wound and two solos. It is unknown who served as Hansen-Young’s muse — maybe the guy who wrote “In My Life”?

First seen in New York at the 2004 Intl. Fringe Festival, the show is a pretty desperate night’s entertainment despite the ministrations of a cast more or less knocking their senses out to entertain us. Annie Golden stands head-and-shoulders in the middle of the mess; everybody else gets two or three songs while Golden has to sing 10. She keeps the musical watchable, which is saying something.

Sharing the spotlight is no less than Eartha Kitt as a former femme fatale in a bright red rooster costume. She does her usual slinky siren act, which remains fairly effective despite its lack of freshness. Late in the evening, though, she loses her wig and sings a ballad (“Last night with sweet and honest words you stripped the lies away”) with such truth and feeling that you momentarily wish you — and Kitt — were at a better musical someplace.

The rest of the players shall go unnamed to protect the innocent.

It’s hard to fault composer Brian Feinstein so much as commiserate with him; New York jobs are hard to come by for beginning songwriters. One is not quite so charitable with director Thomas Caruso (a resident director of “Mamma Mia!”) and choreographer Matt West (of “Beauty and the Beast”), as their creative choices are all too visible.

Sets and costumes are especially garish, but past work of designers John Arnone and Ann Hould-Ward suggests this might be a case of finally rolling one’s eyes and giving the author-producer what she wanted. It’s impossible, though, to ignore Tom Aldredge’s suit of jagged black-and-white lines, with bloodshot eyes superimposed. When he takes off his jacket in the second act, we see he’s wearing a bright orange shirt, with suspenders — one side purple, one side blue. (After one night with Eartha, Aldredge sighs and dies.)

Then there’s the overweight oyster-shucker-who-wants-to-be-a-detective, dressed in a green Miss Marple dress, with bare legs and mustache.

Mimi le Duck

New World Stages; 350 seats; $70 top

Production

A Mango Hill Prods./Aruba Prods. presentation in association with Marie Costanza and Paul Beattie of a musical in two acts, with book and lyrics by Diana Hansen-Young, music by Brian Feinstein. Directed by Thomas Caruso. Music direction and orchestrations, Chris Fenwick. Choreography, Matt West.

Creative

Sets, John Arnone; costumes, Ann Hould-Ward; lighting, David Lander; sound, Tony Smolenski, Walter Trarbach; production stage manager, Charles M. Turner III. Opened Nov. 6, 2006. Reviewed Nov. 2. Running time: 1 HOUR, 55 MIN.

Cast

Miriam - Annie Golden Peter - Marcus Neville Ernest Hemingway - Allen Fitzpatrick Gypsy - Ken Jennings Claude - Robert DuSold Madame Vallet - Eartha Kitt Ziggy - Tom Aldredge Clay - Candy Buckley

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