Annie Golden and Eartha Kitt
in Mimi le Duck
(© Joan Marcus)
Annie Golden and Eartha Kitt
in Mimi le Duck
(© Joan Marcus)
In principle, it's wonderful when a show gets picked up from The New York International Fringe Festival for commercial presentation, as has happened with Mimi le Duck, now at New World Stages. But what was charming and acceptable in a Fringe show does not necessarily fly, so to speak, when folks are paying substantial Off-Broadway ticket prices. Also, while recasting a key role for star power -- as has been done with the addition of the legendary Eartha Kitt -- may raise the show's profile, it doesn't make the material better. And better material is what's sorely needed here.

The unwieldy book by Diana Hansen-Young strives to be quirky, but the problem is that we constantly feel the striving. The show focuses on Miriam (Annie Golden) of Ketchum, Idaho, who paints birds for sale on a TV shopping channel but who has become fed up with her life. When she tries to blow her head off with a shotgun, who should appear but the ghost of Ernest Hemingway (Allen Fitzpatrick). Having himself blown his head off in Ketchum, Hemingway finally has a chance to achieve eternal peace by stopping Miriam from doing the same and helping her find her "green flash." (We know that sounds stupid.) Since he found his own green flash in Paris, he talks her into running away and leaving her husband (Marcus Neville) and family behind to pursue her art there.

Once in Paris, Miriam is immediately robbed by a Gypsy (Ken Jennings). But she finds help and friendship with an odd assortment of characters, such as a cross-dressing oyster shucker who wants to be Miss Marple (Robert DuSold), a fiercely passionate penis sculptress named Clay (Candy Buckley), a kindly old nightclub owner named Ziggy (Tom Aldredge), and the ageless Madame Vallet (Kitt), an entertainer who just happens to be remarkably like Eartha Kitt. The rather bossy and brassy Hemingway sticks around to stir the plot, which turns out to be a rather thin soup.

One can give credit to Mimi le Duck for not being derivative of other musicals, but the score -- music by Brian Feinstein, lyrics by Hansen-Young -- is mostly uninspired. One of the most entertaining songs is "It's All About," which exists merely as a vehicle for Kitt to purr, bump and grind, and impress us with her iconic showmanship. It does not have anything to do with the musical. Kitt actually has a better song called "Everything Changes," but it's a rare exception to the otherwise stale score. The cast is generally entertaining, and Golden is once again naturally quirky and adorable.

There is cleverness in both Thomas Caruso's direction and John Arnone's scenic design, though the set's doorways and pieces of bric-a-brac that move on rollers are overused to the point of distraction. Ann Hould-Ward's costumes are engagingly and purposefully over-the-top, but while we find no specific fault in that, the overall sense of the show is one of all-too-obvious effort.

Ultimately, the main reason to see Mimi le Duck is to watch Eartha Kitt in action. Otherwise, this musical comedy is for the birds.