Clark plays the lead in the off-beat musical. (Joan Marcus)
the youngest person in the room is the wisest — even if she is 16 and looks
like a 72-year-old.
the premise behind the Broadway musical Kimberly Akimbo, starring
Victoria Clark as the smart, dry-humored New Jersey teen Kimberly Levaco. She is
cursed with a deeply dysfunctional family and a short lifespan.
wants to make the most of the time she has left, since her rare disease is
aging her — fast. Yet the book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire (“Rabbit
Hole”), along with music by Jeanine Tesori (“Fun Home”), doesn’t offer a
her story is sad, but it never feels hopeless.
the teen can count herself blessed with good friends, especially Seth (standout
Justin Cooley), an engaging tuba-playing anagram lover who has a crush on her.
Her other friends, played by Olivia Elease Hardy, Fernell Hogan, Michael
Iskander and Nina White, grapple with the usual teen issues, including
wrestling with their sexuality. Iskander, especially, personifies youthful
who won a Tony for “Light in the Piazza,” has a tough acting challenge —
playing a teen wise beyond her years, but not coming off as an adult. She is spot-on,
a wonderfully nuanced Kimberly coping with the usual teen concerns — academics,
fitting in — while confronting flawed parents: a pregnant, self-involved, oddly
funny mother (Alli Mauzey) with spectacularly bad luck and an alcoholic father
(Steven Boyer), whose mainstay is false promises. Kimberly longs to visit an
amusement park. Instead, her parents take her on an emotional rollercoaster
ride of neglect and secrets.
latter is compounded by the arrival of her Aunt Debra (Bonnie Milligan) who
injects brash humor into every line. Debra, who has a commanding stage
presence, has her own agenda. And like all con artists, she knows the best way
to recruit anyone to a dodgy enterprise is to give them what they want: money.
needs it to see places while there is still time — a road trip from Six Flags
to Walt Disney World. Her friends desperately need funds to compete in a
musical-dance competition that requires snazzy costumes. Debra sees her
proposed enterprise, as all brazenly oblivious criminals do, as an expedient
means to an end.
Kimberly Akimbo’s ensemble cast. (Photo:
began off-Broadway at the Atlantic Theater Company, positing an off-kilter
musical. And that’s part of its charm. It’s funny, somewhat bizarre, yet raises
critical issues, such as recognizing we aren’t always the child our parents wanted.
Or how easy it is, as an adult, to regret the actions carelessly taken as a
for that road not taken? Kimberly Akimbo is a reminder that we rarely
get life exactly right. We try. We fail. And hopefully, we try again.
Ironically, Kimberly’s disease is a literal statement for many kids who take on
adult responsibilities in a family of wayward parents.
set design by David Zinn captures the pathos of a lower-class New Jersey home
and the garishness of an ice-skating rink. The latter is almost a metaphor for
its customers: They keep going in circles, but never get anywhere. That reality
is part of the darker hue to the musical’s comedic moments. Morality is
ever-present here — and it takes a rare person to literally seize the day —
whatever the cost.
Jessica Stone and choreographer Danny Mefford have fashioned an entertaining,
interesting and unusual piece. As Kimberly sings about Seth: “I like your point
of view. A little sly. A little strange. A little bit askew.” Just like Kimberly Akimbo.
– Booth Theater, 222 West 45th St.
Running time: 2 hours and 20 minutes, with one intermission