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. 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.
Kimberly Levaco (the always welcome Victoria Clark) 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 much better than her dysfunctional parents. She’s aware that mortality for her illness teeters at sixteen. In a credit to the actress and director, awareness roils just below the surface. A letter to the Make-A-Wish Foundation is telling.
Alli Mauzey – Pattie/Mom
Mother Pattie (Alli Mauzey, who credibly inhabits the slightly dazed role), having had both hands operated on for carpal tunnel so that she can hold her incipient baby, sinks into a preferred state of childlike passivity. It’s clear she barely participated in either domestic responsibilities or child rearing before her current state. Plans for the next (presumed healthy) child are notably different, beginning with recording messages. Buddy Levaco (aptly irritating Steven Boyer) is a genial alcoholic who works at a gas station and makes a habit of forgetting to pick up his daughter. The family mostly subsists 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 consists of Delia (tonight, Skye Alyssa Friedman, seamlessly integrated), Teresa (Nina White), Martin (Fernell Hogan II) and Aaron (Michael Iskander). All four are suffering from unrequited love within the tight knit group, creating something of a caucus race. An addition to the play that mostly works, they add color, context and backup singing/dancing lightening proceedings. All are animated and appealing.
Victoria Clark (Kimberly), Justin Cooley (Seth), Steven Boyer (Buddy-Dad)
“It’s Saturday night in butt-crack township” and everyone has gathered at the local skating rink. Manifest without character by David Zinn, the rubber-like floor nonetheless allows actors to actually skate around the stage. At the rental window is classmate Seth (18 year-old Justin Cooley, making a notable New York debut), a tuba player and anagram nerd sensitive enough to see past Kim’s aged face. (Anagrams throughout the musical are wonderful.) “With a change of perspective, nothing’s defective,” he sings.
Enter Aunt Debra (skilled comedienne Bonnie Milligan). Having tracked the family from Secaucus where something dreadful occurred, the unwanted guest has been living in the school library waiting for Kim to appear. She coerces the Levaco address from her niece and, much to the chagrin of Pattie and Buddy, takes up residence in their basement.
Victoria Clark, Justin Cooley, Nina White, Fernell Hogan II, Bonnie Milligan, Olivia Elease Hardy, Michael Iskander
Debra is about as quick-fingered and amoral as it gets. In fact, she’s on parole. Still, she arrives with a get-rich-quick scheme she intends to talk Kim into sharing. Watching the new arrival drag a full sized mailbox through the living room is priceless. It’s no surprise when the Levaco’s bungle Kim’s birthday, but with help from Seth at least they try to be there for her. Things are beginning to change.
At first appalled, Kim acquires a carpe diem attitude and agrees to participate in Debra’s plan. Delia, Teresa, Martin and Aaron are conscripted 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.) And yes, through a twist it ends well/upbeat (or at least what we see.)
Victoria Clark (Kimberly), Justin Cooley (Seth)
Jessica Stone’s staging gets the job done without a lot of imagination. Biology class presentations on diseases (including Kimberly’s) is lively, however, and the basement tutorial fun.
Victoria Clark is flat out terrific and brave to take this on. Mannerisms are mature 16 year-old. Singing is superb. Empathy grade is A plus.
Photos by Ahron R. Foster
Opening – Victoria Clark
Atlantic Theater Company presents
Book & Lyrics- David Lindsay-Abaire
Music- Jeanine Tesori
Based on the play by David Lindsay-Abaire
Choreographed by Danny Medford
Directed by Jessica Stone
Through January 15, 2022