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A CurtainUp Review
Mimi le Duck

I don't look a day older than fifty. —Vallet

Annie Golden and Eartha Kitt in Mimi Le Duck
Annie Golden and Eartha Kitt in Mimi Le Duck
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
Ernest Hemingway famously committed suicide with a shot-gun blast to his head in Ketchum, Idaho in 1961. Its 45 years later and Ketchum resident Miriam (Annie Golden), a depressed Mormon housewife, is about to do the same with a shotgun.

Her clueless husband Peter (Marcus Neville) aside, Miriam doesn’t see a bright future for herself now that their two grown sons are on their own. She continues to teach Sunday school, but she also has a lucrative job painting portraits of ducks and selling them on the QVC shopping network. This is not, however, fulfilling her desire to be a real artist. She is about to pull the trigger when who should suddenly appear to her out of the blue with a white bandage wrapped around his head but Hemingway (Allen Fitzgerald). He is not about to let her kill herself and makes it his mission to give Miriam a new lease on life. He does this by giving her the key to his Paris apartment. Sick of painting those gray and powder blue ducks, Miriam packs a suitcase and heads to Paris with Hemingway as her mentor and guide. Yes, it may be wish fulfillment, but so begins the aggressively fanciful, courageously whimsical Mimi le Duck.

This collaboration between composer Brian Feinstein and book writer/lyricist Diana Hansen-Young is most notable for the way it fearlessly and assiduously adheres to its fantastical conceits. To be sure, this is an odd-ball creation that occasionally misses the mark. But, as directed with verve and esprit de corps by Thomas Caruso, it more often beguiles us with its sweetly envisioned precociousness. And more importantly, they have written at least two memorable songs (noted later), a feat that is all too rare in today’s musical theater.

Paris, as drawn from Miriam’s by-ducks-possessed consciousness, with great support from set designer John Arnone’s colorfully dotty palette, is full of daffy (no pun intended) expressionistically conceived characters. None are more conspicuously outré than those who reside at 22 Rue Danou. The concierge/owner is an over-the-hill torch singer named Vallet, played by none other than the stunningly theatrical Eartha Kitt. There is a danger, of course, in having Kitt appear in your show, especially when she has a relatively small role and has only two solo songs.

The danger is that once Kitt appears and takes command of the stage, as the former "Red Bird of Paris," everything and everyone else are suddenly less important. Wearing a different eye-popping red gown for each song, even showing off her still gorgeous gams, Kitt proves once again that she is THE chanteuse non pareil. The songs, "Everything Changes," and "All Things New," (the latter only recently added to the show) are lovely ballads and sublimely interpreted in Kitt’s inimitable French style. Anyone who wants to see and hear one of the great entertainers of our time shouldn't duck this Mimi.

Miriam, played by the delightfully off-beat Ms. Golden, holds her own quite assertively and exuberantly among the bevy of extravagantly and abstractly concocted cartoon-like characters she encounters. They are seen quite amusingly as a reflection of Miriam’s quirky perspective and most imaginatively through the fowl-and-feathers-enhanced artistry of costume designer Ann Hould-Ward. Golden’s little girl voice is uniquely pitched and gives a refreshing resonance to her many songs. An amusing duet, "It’s All About. . . " (sex, breasts etc.), has Vallet effectively change Miriam’s frumpy image.

The score, which is conventionally melodic yet sprightly, may try a bit too hard serve as propellants to Miriam’s antics and those of the excellent nattily implemented supporting characters. But it does provide some charming moments for Ken Jenning’s as the Gypsy who welcomes Miriam with "Paris is a City"” and then proceeds to steal her purse. It turns out that the short but amorous Gypsy is also a resident of "the house" and married to tall and tempestuous Clay (Candy Buckley), a sculptress who bicycles around Paris with a bust of her creation sitting atop the handlebar. Other residents who also dream of fulfilling their dreams, are Claude (Robert Dusold), who shucks oysters from his push cart but really wants to be a detective like Miss Marpel, and dresses up like her.

Tom Aldredge is wonderful as Ziggy, the aging stylishly dapper veteran of many wars who continues to carry the torch for Vallet. Aldredge, who is approaching 50 years in the theater and has played in over 75 shows, has his moment to shine with his poignant declaration to his beloved, "The Only Time We Have is Now."

Will Miriam and those other seekers find what they are looking for? And what about Miriam’s jealous husband who pops up in Paris to bring his wife home only to discover he has a taste for oysters? There is an endearing naiveté about this musical that helps keep the overall silliness at bay.

This collaboration between Feinstein and Young evidently began when they were students at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. Despite being somewhat sophomoric, this some musical lark, with its "stay alive in fantasy" theme will, provide a good time for those who are willing to suspend their sophistication. A chapter of the Red Hat Ladies attended the same performance as I did and sat in the first few rows of the theater. They appeared to be enjoying every minute. Their beautiful red hats seemed to fit right in with the millinery in the show — sans any fowl in flight.

Mimi le Duck
Book and lyrics by Diana Hansen-Young & Music by Brian Feinstein
Directed by Thomas Caruso
  Scenic Design: John Arnone
  Costume Design: Ann Hould-Ward
  Lighting Design: David Lander
  Sound Design: Tony Smolenski, Walter Trarbach
  Music Direction/Orchestrations: Chris Fenwick
  Musical Staging: Matt West
  Running Time: 2 hours including intermission
  New World Stages, 340 West 50th Street, 212 – 239 - 6200.
  Monday, Wednesday – Friday at 8 PM, Saturday at 2 PM and 8 PM, and Sunday at 3 PM and 7 PM.
  From October 12, 2006; opening November 6, 2006
  Tickets: $45 to $70.
  Reviewed by Simon Saltzman based on matinee performance, November 5, 2006

Musical Numbers
Act One
  • Ketchum, Idaho /Ketchum Choir, Miriam
  • Gray Miriam
  • Paris is a City Gypsy
  • 22 Rue Danou / The House
  • A Thousand Hands /Hemingway
  • Why Not? /Claude, Ancestors
  • It's All About / Vallet, Miriam
  • Empty or Full / Ziggy, Miriam
  • Everything Changes /Vallet
  • There Are Times In Life /Clay, Miriam
  • Don't Ask /Clay
  • Get Outta Here Peter /Miriam, Peter
  • Is There Room? /Miriam, Peter
Act Two
  • The Green Flash /Hemingway
  • My Mother Always Said / Miriam
  • The Only Time We Have is Now / Ziggy
  • Cozy Dreams Come True / Peter, Claude, Gypsy
  • Paris is a City (reprise) / Gypsy
  • Peter's Reprise/ Peter
  • All Things New /Vallet [added song]
  • The Garden Is Green /Miriam
  • There is Room /Miriam, Peter, The House
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