The opera stage uses up most divas by the age of 50. Hollywood scares female performers to plastic surgery by 30 and semi-retirement a decade later. Theatre, however, can be kind to mature women.
Witness the new musical Grey Gardens, which has at last transferred to Broadway. It has critics spinning with praise for its compelling lead performance, by the veteran Christine Ebersole, even as the reviews set up audience expectations that the structurally misguided show cannot meet.
By contrast, Mimi le Duck, which has just opened off-Broadway at New World Stages, has inspired some derision. It is true that this musical is ineptly named: it is less a duck than a turkey. The plot is strange. An unhappy Mormon artist, who has made her name selling kitschy canard canvases on television, moves to Paris, where she imbibes the spirit of the demimonde.
And yet this Duck contains a couple of aged swans, Eartha Kitt and Tom Aldredge. The latter has inhabited the New York stage for half a century, enlivening work by Sondheim, Williams, and lesser deities. Here he plays Ziggy, described as “the owner of Paris’ most unique club”. (Exact word usage is not the strong suit of Diana Hansen-Young, who wrote the book and lyrics.) With a face like Buster Keaton’s, and the spryness of late Astaire, Aldredge spins around the stage delightfully.
Kitt hit Broadway even before Aldredge did. In the 1960s, however, America – so often rude to its outspoken talents – forced her career to Europe. Kitt puts her long-time continental experience to use in Mimi, portraying a wizened chanteuse.
The stale quips made about her advanced age remind one of the “Yo moma” jokes revived lately by MTV. (“Yo moma so old she still owes Moses a dollar.”) And the Parisian-inflected music she is asked to sing, written by Brian Feinstein, will never banish memories of “C’est Si Bon” and other Kitt classics. But her presence on stage, in swirls of red satin, suffices – almost – to redeem this awkward evening.
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