One of the newest and most attractive Off-Broadway theaters in Manhattan, the New World Stages on West 50th Street, home to Naked Boys Singing and Altar Boyz--two fantastic shows--has made a terrible mistake.
Mimi Le Duck. I'll "mostly" resist the obvious jokes about fowl and turkeys.
The story is simple. A clinically depressed middle-aged Mormon woman who does duck paintings for a home shopping network and is trapped in a mind-numbing relationship with a very gray man is prevented from committing suicide with a machine gun by the ghost of Ernest Hemingway who is trapped in Idaho until he can prevent someone from committing suicide and inspire that person to go to Paris and invent a new life. He does. She agrees. They go together. Once in Paris our Mormon housewife discovers a community of very old people who think they are various kinds of water fowl, an artist who sculpts giant penises out of clay and occasionally fucks a Spanish dwarf and a cross-dressing oyster shucker who thinks he's a character from an Agathe Christie novel and is also haunted by several dead oyster shuckers. Our protagonist, the suicidal Mormon lady from Idaho, abandons her faith, discovers wine and champagne and becomes a duck--Mimi le Duc, to be precise. And then the story gets really complicated, ending with the audience contemplating suicide.
The cast is extraordinary: An extremely talented group of actors who were apparently arrested late one night by the some theater gestapo and then led off to some nightmarish world for execution.
Horrifyingly, Eartha Kitt, although she only had two numbers, was among the dead men walking. I worship every purr that flows out of her but surely her own funeral will be more exciting and glamorous than this performance.
This may be the cruelest thing I've ever written, but one has to ask how a team of consummate professionals can bring a musical to previews in a major New York Off-Broadway venue and not notice along the way that the production is one of the most dreadful shows to drop on to a stage. And when I say drop, I mean like a thousand frozen turkeys thrown out of a helicopter over a shopping center parking lot crashing down on cars and unsuspecting shoppers.
How does one describe Mimi Le Duck? The lyrics are mostly a relentless barrage of cliches. The music, at best, seemed a disastrous attempt to mimic Sondheim as interpreted by a tone deaf Jehovah's Witness. I will concede that there is one, maybe two songs that would work in a late night cabaret setting. But like Ms. Kitt, they were buried alive.
Paris, the primary location for the show will likely never recover from this assault. The "setting" appeared to be some Bizarro World version of a garbage dump with bits of Montmartre and the Latin Quarter strewn about, framed by the bright red feet of the Eiffel Tower. Mimi Le Duck miraculously manages to suck every bit of romance and magic out of the notion of a bohemian Paris.
For a good part of the production, poor Ms. Kitt is wheeled around standing erect and stiff on some sort of cart leaving one with the impression that she's barely alive and unable to move. It may have been intended to simulate a bird in a cage, but it was more like a legend trapped in nightmare. One could imagine that it was the corpse of Eartha Kitt's career.
Fortunately, Ms. Kitt does escape from this freakish trolley and is finally allowed to move a bit under her own steam, confirming that she is still alive--assuming the humiliation of being in this show doesn't kill her.
One other bit of good news: I was invited to this fright fest and did not pay. Funny thing though: As my host and good friend Rafael-- who is a musical theater junkie and sees everything-- and I were waiting for the show to start he asked me what was the worst musical I'd ever seen on or Off-Broadway. As I reviewed my 50 years of show-going, he mentioned that his choice for worst show was "Ring of Fire." I was struggling with my answer as the music came up.
Fortunately, by intermission, I had my answer.
As we were leaving the show, the crew was passing out free CDs--as many as you could carry--so I was able to to listen to the music a few times at home in the desperate hope that it would grow on me, and it did, like a flesh eating bacteria.
My prayer for the 79-year-old Ms. Kitt is that she lives long enough to appear in one more concert or show that allows her swan song to be something other than this tragic event. I also pray that Ms. Kitt is still strong enough at 79 to muster enough Catwoman to rip open her agents throat and devour him mercilessly.
I left the theater on West 50th Street humming Springtime for Hitler, contemplating calling in a bomb threat (pun passionately intended) so that the theater would be shut down long enough for the cast to creep into the night and preserve some dignity.
If you're the sort of theater fanatic who has a fetish for really bad shows, Mimi Le Duc is a must-see. But be warned, the Eartha Kitt abuse will break your heart.
The show is scheduled to "open" tonight, on Halloween. Someone surely has a bizarre sense of humor. This show is all trick and absolutely no treat.