Reasons to see ‘Kimberly Akimbo’ on Broadway
Kimberly Akimbo is unabashedly bittersweet. How could it not be? After all, the musical tells the story of a 16-year-old New Jersey girl with an age-accelerating disorder that’s forced her to face mortality before she’s had a chance to really live.
What makes this show — which won five Tonys, including Best Musical — so distinct and satisfying is the way its creators mined the plot's complexity for such riches and emotional payoffs. They nail the delicate balance between the extremes: what is, well, deadly serious and laugh-out-loud funny. When the stakes are life and death, and nothing less, the rewards can be just as high.
As New York Theatre Guide's critic noted in a five-star review, Kimberly Akimbo is "letter-perfect." Here's why.
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The title heroine will have you cheering.
Book writer David Lindsay-Abaire, who won a Tony for this adaptation of his same-named 2001 play, has created a main character for the ages – and the annals of family dysfunction. High schooler Kimberly Levaco isn’t just up against a progeria-like condition that’s maxed out her life expectancy at 16 years, but her family. Dad drinks, Mom is a pregnant hypochondriac, and her aunt is a felony waiting to happen.
Kim is an outsider – and who can’t relate on some level? In that sense, Lindsay-Abaire taps into something universal. And he’s shrewd enough to throw Kimberly a lifeline: a boy who really likes her, exactly as she is.
Kimberly Akimbo’s songs are wall-to-wall delights.
A snippet of the Tony-winning Kimberly Akimbo score by Lindsay-Abaire (lyrics) and Jeanine Tesori (music) runs through my mind on a regular repeat. It’s from “Anagram,” a song about scrambling what’s there to reveal something new. “With a change of perspective,” Kim sings, “nothing’s defective.” In just seven words, there’s something deceptively deep as well as self- and life-affirming.
And that song isn't an outlier; Lindsay-Abaire and Tesori strike rich musical chords throughout the show. Bank on “How to Wash a Check,” an instructional ode to larceny, for a dose of straight-up silliness. “Father Time” delivers unexpected tenderness. “The Inevitable Turn” provides a clear-eyed take on people’s ability to change their spots.
Kimberly Akimbo boasts stellar performances across the board.
Everybody shines bright in director Jessica Stone’s staging. Victoria Clark won a Tony for playing a mother whose daughter has challenges in The Light in the Piazza. Deservedly, she earned one for playing a daughter whose troubles include her parents in Kimberly Akimbo. Clark’s ability to capture the cadence and carriage of a teen feels like theatrical magic – or maybe it’s another instance of Broadway time travel.
Fellow 2023 Tony winner Bonnie Milligan summons powerhouse pipes and a WTF attitude that works wonders as Kim’s con-woman Aunt Deb. Justin Cooley adds a joy jolt as the unlikely guy in Kim’s life, while Steven Boyer and Alli Mauzey are at their best when Kim’s parents are at their worst. All four actors in the ensemble step up — and I literally mean "step" as the in-sync members of Kim's high school's show choir.
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When all is said and sung, Kimberly Akimbo leaves you thinking about seizing the day. It’s a musical reminder that packs an emotional wallop you don’t see coming. Revel in it!
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Photo credit: Kimberly Akimbo on Broadway. (Photo by Joan Marcus)
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