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"Kimberly Akimbo," show #853

Kimberly Akimbo lives with progeria, a rare disease which ages you four-and-a-half times faster than is typical. Victoria Clark is stalwart as the titular character, keeping her performance fun, emotionally driven, and true to teenage mannerisms; it’s a role which seems to fit naturally on her body and in her voice. And while she is supported by a strong cast, it is Clark’s performance that propels this Kimberly Akimbo to the heights of legit musical theatre excellence.

Kimberly Akimbo is originally a play by David Lindsay-Abaire, who does the book and lyrics for this musical adaptation. Lindsay-Abaire teams up with Jeanine Tesori (music), reuniting the same team that garnered a Tony nomination for their score of Shrek the Musical. Their superb writing gels well with Jessica Stone’s clipped direction as she has found every beat of funny, heart, and pause-for-effect without begging for the audience’s attention. Complemented by Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew’s wonderful lighting design, David Zinn’s splendid scenic design, and Danny Mefford’s fluid choreography and knack for visually appealing stage pictures with a small cast, Kimberly Akimbo hits all the right notes regardless of what you want out of a musical.

(L to R: Victoria Clark (Kimberly), Justin Cooley (Seth) and Stephen Boyer (Buddy); Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

In addition to Clark, Justin Cooley delivers the role of Seth, eventual beau to Clark’s Kimberly, in a fashion which makes you root for him. Cooley’s performance of “Good Kid” gives focus and purpose to the otherwise good-natured, almost too reasonably understanding demeanor of his character. Cooley and Clark share an abundance of tender and hilarious moments together, all of which create a natural progression to the ending you know will happen (when you see it, of course; it’s not to be spoiled in this write-up). “Now” serves as a great second act duet for the two, blessing the stage with the chemistry and vocal prominence they had demonstrated throughout the show.

(Alli Mauzey (Pattie) and Victoria Clark (Kimberly); Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

Alli Mauzey and Stephen Boyer, playing Kimberly’s parents, Pattie and Buddy, nail their offerings to their respective horrible parent dichotomy, with Boyer doing well as the you-love-to-hate-him alcoholic father in his one attempt at garnering an emotional tug in “Happy for Her.” Mauzey, without missing a step or beat, hits every comedic line and genuine emotion with ease. Not just a swell physical comedienne with all that her character endures (again, no spoilers of the bit) but her singing and acting turns are well-showcased in “Hello, Darling,” and especially in its reprise accompanied with “Father Time.” Bonnie Milligan is a scene-stealing, show-stopping powerhouse in her role as aunt to Kimberly, Debra, a jailbird looking for the next dollar she can snag. Milligan’s ability to give every action and reaction its comedic due is testament to her natural-given talent and Stone’s eye for giving proper pull to each scene and song. Her opening tune alongside the quartet of high schoolers, “Better,” is a dynamite opening turn for Milligan and company, and her leading of the act two opener, “How to Wash a Check,” is a character actress’s dream, replete with humor and notes which soar, interactions with and in reaction to the supporting cast that catapult Milligan to an actress you want more of no matter how much you’ve already had.

(Center: Bonnie MIlligan (Debra); Behind, L to R: Michael Iskander (Aaron), NIna White (Teresa), Olivia Elease Hardy (Delia), and Fernell Hogan (Martin); Photo credit: Ahron Foster)

One of the strongest points in Kimberly Akimbo is the effective use of a modern take on a Greek chorus in the writing and staging of Kimberly and Seth’s cohorts at their high school. Olivia Elease Hardy (Delia), Fernell Hogan (Martin), Nina White (Teresa), and understudy Miguel Gil (Aaron), provided wonderful turns in developing their own flirty plots while supporting the primary plot with commentary and character development. The four teamed up well with Clark and Cooley in “Our Disease,” where the students present their chosen diseases for their science class assignment. The quartet provides stellar harmonies and solo moments throughout the production, highlighted especially well in “Skate Planet” and its reprise; “Anagram,” a standout get-to-know-you moment between Seth and Kimberly but fleshed out with the quartet’s lyrics and reactions; and backing up Mauzey, Milligan, and Boyer very well in “The Inevitable Turn." Not to mention, but I will because I must, the four’s commitment and delivery of their plots of crushes within their friend-group was an Olympic-volleyball-sized set-up for one of Milligan’s funniest smashes of a laugh line; you can’t nail team work, in the form of acting, staging, and writing, much better than that.

Kimberly Akimbo is a shining light of heart, acceptance, family, and love being put responsibly and artistically true in the form of a musical. Your attendance won’t be in vain should you see Kimberly Akimbo, currently playing at the Booth Theatre and let me assure you: you should. Don’t miss this show!

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