The musical Kimberly Akimbo can be described as quirky. Quirky in a good way. The show, a big hit Off-Broadway last season, has made a successful transfer to Broadway without losing its more intimate quality and eccentric feel. Based on David Linday-Abaire’s 2001 play of the same name, the story revolves around Kimberly, a high school teenager suffering from a rare disorder that causes her to age four times faster than normal. Looking more like a senior citizen, the actress Victoria Clark gives a bravo performance as the young adult. After just a few minutes on stage you wholeheartedly believe her portrayal of Kimberly.
The story takes place in the North Jersey suburbs. Kimberly, a smart 16 year old, lives with her slacker, undependable parents, Buddy (Steven Boyer) and Patti (Alli Mauzey). At times, she seems to be parenting them. Kimberly is not part of a group or clique until she falls in with a band of fellow outsiders, most notably Seth (a winning Broadway debut by Justin Cooley), who manages the local ice rink, plays the tuba and has his own dysfunctional home life to contend with. Life is looking up for Kimberly and her friendship with Seth until the appearance of her aunt Debra (Bonnie Milligan) turns everything topsy-turvy. She is a hopeless schemer and crooked individual always in the thick of chaos. While creating upheaval at her sister Pattie’s and brother-in-law Buddy’s home, she recruits Kimberly and her pals for a sure-fire scam to enrich herself and the teens. In the end, everyone, well, mostly everyone gets a big payoff.
What makes Kimberly Akimbo work is its skillful mix of goofiness, heartache and poignancy. Director Jessica Stone guides the show with an assured hand and clever decisions, allowing the musical’s humor and honesty to shine brightly. David Zinn’s multiple sets bolster the quality of the show without overpowering the production. Choreographer Danny Mefford sprinkles some sprightly dance numbers throughout the production only when they make sense for the show. The ice skating number is a considerable standout. Librettist David Lindsay-Abaire celebrates uniqueness and unconventionality with a playful joyfulness. There is a serious undertone to the show as characters make decisions about the direction of their lives. What could have been a real downer of a show ends on an uplifting high note.
The composing team of Jeanine Tesori (music) and Lindsay-Abaire (lyrics), whose previous collaboration was Shrek - the Musical, have crafted a score that fetes individualness and fun. The songs, tuneful and jubilant, cleverly help further the plot and character development. Standouts include the tenderly amusing “Anagram,” the self-revelatory belter “Better,” and the rejoicing Act I closer “This Time.”
The entire cast, a carryover from the Off-Broadway run, fits smoothly and comfortably into their roles for the Broadway run. Victoria Clark’s portrayal of Kimberly is so beautiful and touching, adding a splash of spunk. Look for her at Tony time. The young actor, Justin Cooley, gleefully infuses Seth with a hopefulness that is at times heart-rending and empowering. Bonnie Milligan’s Debra gives new meaning to crass and endearment, with a screwball twist. Her delightfully inept shenanigans power the show forward. Steven Boyer’s Buddy and Alli Mauzey’s Patti give daffy performances that are tinged with unfulfillment and regret. The gaggle of high school students - Olivia Elease Hardy, Fernell Hogan, Michael Iskander, and Nina White - are a fine group of up-and-coming actors, unflinchingly proud of themselves and their abilities.
Kimberly Akimbo may lack the firepower and pizazz of large-scale Broadway productions but is, nonetheless, a wholly satisfying musical theater experience.