What is it about the French that makes everyone go all cutesy? In Mimi le Duck, the new musical at New World Stages, we get another dose of a na誰ve American in Paris who's shown the joys of sex, cabarets, and the Eiffel Tower. Despite a superb, skillful cast — featuring irreplaceable, irrepressible vixen Eartha Kitt — and a pleasant-enough score (music by Brian Feinstein, book and lyrics by Diana Hansen-Young), the show is thin on substance and thick on whimsy.
Our heroine is Miriam (Annie Golden), a Ketchum, Idaho, housewife who's done quite well on QVC selling her paintings of flying ducks. Taken under the wing (so to speak) of the ghost of Ernest Hemingway (Allen Fitzpatrick), who has returned specifically to help her, she leaves doting-but-square husband Peter (Marcus Neville) for Paris, where she rents the very room where E.H. used to write — or so she believes.
The house is run by Madame Vallet (Kitt), a onetime chanteuse. Also living there is Clay (Candy Buckley), a sculptress who's married to Gypsy (Ken Jennings), a Spaniard who lifted Miriam's purse on her first day in town. We also meet Ziggy (Tom Aldredge), the elderly owner of Le Quack 'n' Chirp nightclub, who has a yen for Vallet, and Claude (Robert DuSold), a cross-dressing oyster shucker with a yen to be Agatha Christie. Miriam soon becomes Mimi and is on her way to chucking anything Idahoan by freeing her artistic spirit ("My hands shall be the paintbrush of my heart").
With effective musical staging by Matt West and direction by Thomas Caruso, some of this is amusing, some even touching. Kitt, with her growl and her flashing eyes, stops the show by merely appearing. When she sings "Everything Changes" ("One time in Montmartre/I drank gin with Sartre"), she conjures an era and a place. It's terrific, but it's not quite enough. Sadly, Mimi le Duck rarely takes flight.
Presented by Mango Hill Productions and Aruba Productions in association with Marie Costanza and Paul Beattie at New World Stages, 340 W. 50th St., NYC. Opened Nov. 6 for an open run. Tue., 7 p.m.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Wed. and Sat., 2 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m. (No performance Tue., Nov. 7. No matinee Wed., Nov. 8. Additional performance Sun., Nov. 12, 7 p.m.) (212) 239-6200 or (800) 432-7250 or www.telecharge.com. Casting by Dave Clemmons Casting, Geoff Josselson.