By Betsyann Faiella
Kimberly Akimbo is a perfect musical. Its origin is the play by the same name by David Lindsay-Abaire, who is the lyricist here with music by Jeanine Tesori, and direction by Jessica Stone.
It’s the story of Kimberly Levaco –played by the goddess Victoria Clark – a 15-year old who suffers from a disease that causes one to age rapidly, and her appearance is that of a woman in her early 70s. The ensemble of characters includes her love interest, Seth (Justin Cooley), who is a tuba playing dreamer and loner and an anagram aficionado; her hapless and hilarious parents: hypochondriac mother Pattie (Alli Mauzey) and alcoholic and well-meaning dad, Buddy (Steven Boyer); and her seriously ball-busting, ne’er do well criminal aunt, Debbie (Bonnie Milligan who is also a force of nature). Her high school cohort, is an ensemble of four skilled young actors (Olivia Elease Hardy, Fernell Hogan II, Nina White and Miguel Gil (subbing on 11/15 for Michael Iskander ) who sing and act beautifully.
At an actual 63 years old, playing 15, Clark stands outside the skating rink, in her jumper and candy necklace convincingly playing a child with a huge burden and a bit more to be anxious about than your normal anxious teen. She is a wise child in an old lady’s body (apologies to my friends in their 60s, as I am). She’s not accepted by the crowd who find her situation and her looks very off-putting, but the absolutely adorable Seth is also a charming, kind and sweet oddball. They bond over his love of anagrams and the need for love and acceptance.
Why is it perfect? So many reasons: the music is contemporary yet still fluid and beautiful and fun. The ensemble is string based, and excellent. The second the curtain went up and the quartet began to sing I relaxed, knowing I was going to hear performances of extremely high quality. Victoria Clark, who walks on water in my opinion, plays the 15 year-old Kimberly so convincingly as she breaks your heart one minute and rouses your support for the underdog the next. In addition, you just fall madly in love once again with the immense talent and pathos Victoria Clark brings to a role in every second she is on stage. She is supported in every aspect: by the excellent cast, the script which is so offbeat and sensitively written, and the lyrics which mainly tell her tale.
All actors are possessed of superb comic timing and talents. In the end our heroine overcomes the trepidation of the other students by taking charge in a wild check-forging caper (concocted by her aunt Debbie) to earn money for her road trip and get the student singers special costumes for their upcoming show choir competition. Kimberly experiences puppy love, as does Seth. When she and Seth kiss, it is a real moment and a real kiss, which leaves them both with a smile on their faces. So glorious. The cast never once condescends to the material.
Kimberly and Seth hit the road together, to be happy for as long as Kimberly lasts, we assume.
KIMBERLY AKIMBO – Book, Lyrics, Original Play by David Lindsay-Abaire; Music by Jeanine Tesori; Direction by Jessica Stone.
WITH: Stephen Boyer, Victoria Clark, Justin Cooley, Miguel Gil, Olivia Elease Hardy, Fernell Hogan II, Michael Iskander, Ali Mauzey, Bonnie Milligan, Nina White
Scenic Design by David Zinn, Lighting Design by Jeannette Oi-Suk Yew, Costume Design by Sarah Laux,
At the Booth Theatre, TICKETS