'Kimberly Akimbo''s Victoria Clark and Bonnie Milligan share a bond on stage and off

The Tony-nominated actresses portray the show’s strongest family bond as a rapidly aging teenager and her criminal aunt.

Joe Dziemianowicz
Joe Dziemianowicz

In a Broadway season filled with memorable characters, two of the most unforgettable portraits appear in the musical Kimberly Akimbo. Kimberly Levaco, a 16-year-old New Jersey girl aging four times faster than the normal rate, and her criminal Aunt Debra stay with audiences long after the music ends.

Credit the fine-tuned – and Tony-nominated – performances of Victoria Clark as the teen in a race against time and Bonnie Milligan as the self-obsessed grifter. The pair are happy to share the stage and this nomination experience together.

“The Tonys have been something I’ve watched since I was a kid,” said Milligan. “To get to be, as Hamilton says, in the room where it happens, is thrilling.” She paused. “I’m up for a Tony Award. That’s a crazy statement.”

Tony nod number five is “just as sweet as the first time, if not sweeter,” said Clark, who won in 2005 for The Light in the Piazza. “It’s good to be reminded that you’re still blessed to be working on a great project and with amazing people – and to be alive.”

Life and death loom large in Kimberly Akimbo, a bittersweet musical comedy by David Lindsay-Abaire (book and lyrics) and Jeanine Tesori (music) hailed for its “wondrous quirkiness” in New York Theatre Guide’s five-star review. (Both writers are also nominated.)

Kim’s life expectancy is 16 years, and she hits that birthday in Act 1. As she finds comfort with a fellow geek, Seth (Tony nominee Justin Cooley), she gets drawn into one of Debra’s illicit schemes.

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As with many characters, the actresses say these roles mirror themselves in some ways. “In terms of personality, Kim and I are not that far off. I was a brainy, somewhat awkward kid,” said Clark. “I didn’t have a lot of friends, but the friends that I had I held very close to my heart. My best friend from sixth grade is still my best friend.”

“The major difference between Kim and me is that I had an incredibly stable and loving family,” continued Clark, who grew up in Texas. (FYI: Kim’s parents are messes.) “We weren’t fancy people. We come from farmers on both sides of my family, but my parents were determined that we have a great education and a lot of education in the arts.”

Milligan grew up “in a supportive and loving family” in Illinois and Ohio. “But I relate to Debra in the sense of coming from a place of not a lot of education or full economic security.” Like Debra, she’s a fighter. After college at Ohio State University, she found her way to New York and built a career. Head Over Heels was her breakout show, a 2018 Go-Go's jukebox musical.

Milligan can relate to Aunt Debra because she has nieces and nephews. (She promised she’s not teaching them how to wash a check à la Debra.) Despite her character’s crazy antics, she works hard to convey Debra’s “genuine love and connection with Kimberly,” she said.

That warmth echoes the actresses’ bond. During Clark’s touching “Make a Wish,” a song in which Kim imagines happy fantasies, Milligan often watches from the wings. “It’s so beautiful and so expertly done,” she said. Clark, meanwhile, said, “The great thing that Bonnie does is that she makes Debra so lovable.” Which isn’t easy.

Before the show’s last scene, Kim’s parents never show her any physical affection, according to Clark. But Debra does. “When I come in and sit down on a beanbag, I hug her,” said Milligan about her first scene with Kim. She also acknowledged, however, that Debra “would never choose her niece over herself at the end of the day.” Looking out for number one is how Deb rolls.

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Getting into character, the actresses say, is a process that happens on the inside and the outside. “I do have an amazing mullet wig,” said Milligan, adding that Debra wears “a winged eyeliner and a lip. She’s this con artist, so she has to be somebody that you’re a little off-put by but also enticed by.” She added that Debra definitely “went to the mall and shoplifted the makeup from Claire’s.”

Clark’s jumpers and jeans help her get into Kim mode, along with a physicality she seems to summon from muscle memory. “I was tall and awkward as a teenager, and I remember feeling like my legs were too long for me or my body,” she said. “It wasn’t like I was embarrassed by it, and Kim isn’t either.”

Recently asked to describe Kim’s walk, Clark said, “I was like, ‘I don't really know how to describe it. It just kind of takes over.’ But then I have to undo it at the end of the show.”

Clark and Milligan said audiences audibly react during the show and at the stage door. After “Better,” Milligan’s big number about seizing opportunities no matter what, Debra creeps into Kim’s house through a window. “That's when I see what the audience is going to be like for me,” said Milligan. “There are varying reactions. Some are a little more off-put by these very dysfunctional adults.”

Teens share their appreciation with Clark after the show. “They’ve said, ‘I totally stopped realizing that you're an older actor,’” she says. “Basically, they’re saying, ‘We’re picking up what you’re putting down.”

Photo credit: Kimberly Akimbo on Broadway. (Photos by Joan Marcus)

Originally published on

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