Many plays suffer transitioning to musicals. This is not the fate of David Lindsay-Abaire’s unique Kimberly Akimbo. The author’s insightful, clever, uncompromising lyrics and Jeanine Tesori’s symbiotic music buoy a piece that otherwise tends to less willing laughter. The collaborators have managed to make mostly unhummable tunes and often unsynced, if clever lyrics work in context. Prepare for a journey that, despite being based in roundly disparaged New Jersey, grows curiouser and curiouser not by dint of fantasy, but by coping with reality.
Alli Mauzey (Patti), Victoria Clark (Kimberly), Steven Boyer (Buddy)
Kimberly Levaco (the always welcome Victoria Clark, plausibly this year’s Tony Award) is just turning sixteen. Because of the extremely rare disease progeria however, she’s physically aged into her sixties. (Bodies age four to five times faster than normal.) The teenager deals with this infinitely better than her dysfunctional parents. She’s aware that mortality for her illness teeters at sixteen. In a credit to the actress and director, this roils below the surface. A letter to the Make-A-Wish Foundation is miles from Hallmark.
Alli Mauzey (Patti)
Sweet, feckless, alcoholic father Buddy (aptly bumbling Steven Boyer) works at a gas station and makes a habit of forgetting to pick up his daughter. Pregnant mother Pattie (Alli Mauzey) barely participates in either domestic responsibilities or child rearing. Having had both hands operated on for carpal tunnel so that she can hold her incipient baby, she sinks into a preferred state of passivity recording messages for the unborn child. (“Hello Darling” is hysterical, showcasing the actress’s pristine, deadpan timing.) The Levacos mostly subsist on cereal. It’s a miracle Kimberly has clothes.
The teenager may not be voted class president, but high school peers astonishingly accept her presence without incident. An ersatz Greek Chorus of fellow outsiders consists of Delia (Olivia Elease Hardy), Teresa (Nina White), Martin (Fernell Hogan) and Aaron (Michael Iskander). All four are suffering from unrequited love within the tight knit group, creating something of a caucus race. They add color, context and backup, singing, dancing and lightening proceedings. All are animated, appealing, and young. (Good casting.)
Victoria Clark (Kimberly), Justin Cooley (Seth), Delia (Olivia Elease Hardy), Nina White (Teresa), Fernell Hogan (Martin)
“It’s Saturday night in butt-crack township” and everyone has gathered at the local skating rink. Manifest without much character (because it’s New Jersey?) by David Zinn who does better with the morphing nature of Kim’s home and school, the rubber-like floor nonetheless allows actors to actually skate around the stage.
At the rental window is classmate Seth (Justin Cooley, making a notable Broadway debut with believable, low key characterization), a tuba player and anagram nerd sensitive enough to see past Kim’s aged face. Anagrams throughout the musical are wonderful as is a wildly creative song. “With a change of perspective, nothing’s defective,” he sings. Collaborating on a biology project (when was the last time you heard a song describing scurvy?) they grow close.
Enter Aunt Debra (skilled comedienne and showstopper Bonnie Milligan). Having tracked the family from Lodi where something dreadful occurred and the Levacos fled her, Patti’s sister has been living in the school library waiting for Kim to appear. She coerces the address from her niece and, much to the chagrin of the Levacos takes up residence in their basement. Debra is about as quick-fingered and amoral as it gets. In fact, she’s on parole. She arrives with a get-rich-quick scheme intent on talking Kim into participation. Watching her drag a full sized mailbox through the living room is priceless.
Nina White (Teresa) Bonnie Milligan (Debbie), Michael Iskander (Aaron) – back; Fernell Hogan (Martin), Olivia Elease Hardy (Delia) – foreground
At first appalled, Kim acquires a carpe diem attitude and agrees to participate in order to secure money for a promised road trip with her parents. Delia, Teresa, Martin and Aaron ambivalently agree for their own cash-strapped reason and the new “gang” learns how to put the project, aka crime, into effect in a funny assembly line scene evoking Modern Times. “Nobody Gets What They Want” Debra sings detailing each step. (But you can’t blame a girl for trying.)
Meanwhile when the Levacos bungle Kim’s birthday (no surprise), they resolve to be there for her, but renege on the trip. Through a twist, the story ends upbeat (or at least what we see) with a marvelous film and a dash of comeuppance.
Victoria Clark is flat out terrific and brave to take this on. Mannerisms are those of a mature 16 year-old. Facial expressions a wonder. Singing is superb. Empathy grade is A-plus.
Jessica Stone’s staging gets the job done. The accoutrements of Debbie’s scheme show imagination. Biology class presentations on diseases (including Kimberly’s) are lively.
Choreography by Danny Mefford is fun.
Much of this is purloined from that of my Atlantic Theater review last year, additions where perspective has changed. The show has only gotten better and tighter.
Photos by Joan Marcus
Opening – Victoria Clark
Book & Lyrics – David Lindsay-Abaire
Music – Jeanine Tesori
Based on the play by David Lindsay-Abaire
Choreographed by Danny Mefford
Directed by Jessica Stone
222 West 45th Street