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'Kimberly Akimbo' review — Victoria Clark and a talented ensemble shine in letter-perfect musical

Joe Dziemianowicz
Joe Dziemianowicz

She’s back! Following an Off-Broadway run that wrapped in January, Kimberly Akimbo is now in residence at the Booth Theatre with the original cast and every bit of its wondrous quirkiness intact. In fact, the show is more polished and endearing than before.

Anyone (including myself) who fears this charmer might get swallowed up in a Broadway house can rest easy. The show, created by David Lindsay-Abaire (book and lyrics) and Jeanine Tesori (music), has found the ideal home.

The luxury of a home-sweet-home is foreign to Kimberly (Victoria Clark) in this story based on Lindsay-Abaire’s same-named 2001 play. In 1999 New Jersey, Kim has an extremely rare condition causing her to age at more than four times the normal speed. She just celebrated her 16th birthday, and in doing so, she’s turned the corner on her life expectancy.

There’s more. Her dad, Buddy (Steven Boyer), hits the bottle with alarming regularity. Her pregnant mom, Pattie (Alli Mauzey), harbors neuroses and a big family secret. Her aunt Debra (Bonnie Milligan) is a con woman who only looks out for herself.

Kim finds a friend and an escape in Seth (Justin Cooley), a geeky fellow student who is obsessed with anagrams and, like her, has a dicey home situation. They initially come together for an ill-conceived science class project, but their bond grows deeper. Around Seth, this girl who looks like she’s 72 can actually act just like the 16-year-old she is.

Black comedy is tricky to pull off. How do you balance the bitter with the sweet? Specifically, how do you find the humor in a distressing subject matter of a teen whose death is coming at her at warp speed?

The creators succeed with a story that goes to serious and seriously cockamamie places (cue Debra’s nutty check-fraud scene) and a batch of songs that are rich, melodic, and multi-toned. There’s also an ace in the hole – Seth and Kim are the most irresistible odd couple since Harold and Maude.

As scenes shift from a skating rink to Kim’s home and school and beyond, the show spills over with heart, hilarity, hummable songs, and an evergreen, urgent message to live every day like it’s your last. In keeping with the go-for-it attitude, the whole cast makes the most of every minute.

Tony winner Clark (The Light in the Piazza) delights as the smart, resilient, and gutsy Kim, who realizes wishes can’t make things better – but she can. Clark is so convincing as a teenager that when she shows up dressed up like a 70something grandmother as part of Debra’s grift, it’s almost a shock.

Cooley is a perfect foil. His Broadway debut is as confident and winning as they come. Boyer and Mauzey are terrific as terrible parents, and Milligan is a belting powerhouse who makes larceny look fun.

The ensemble also shines bright. That includes Olivia Elease Hardy, Fernell Hogan, Michael Iskander, and Nina White as Kim’s classmates, who double as a sort of Greek chorus to harmonize at key moments.

In addition to assembling a wonderful cast, director Jessica Stone shows a keen eye for detail. It’s no fluke that a sign at the rink advertising BIRTHDAY PARTIES has a lopsided “D.” It’s all too fitting for a girl for whom birthdays are a mortal enemy. Those tiny details add up to make Kimberly Akimbo letter-perfect.

Kimberly Akimbo is at the Booth Theatre. Get Kimberly Akimbo tickets on New York Theatre Guide.

Photo credit: Victoria Clark in Kimberly Akimbo on Broadway. (Photo by Joan Marcus)

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