‘Kimberly Akimbo’ Review: What’s the Anagram for ‘Awesome’?

The sweetest love scene in a New York scene currently features neither Left Bank bohemians, Orpheus and Eurydice, nor that masked freak. Rather, it’s between a tuba-playing, Elvish-speaking high school über-nerd and a girl who looks like her grandmother.

Cause girl was born to Kimberly Levaco a genetic aging disorder similar to progeriaDespite turning 16, she looks to be in her 60s. In the funny and moving new musical “kimberly akimboOpening at the Linda Gross Theater in an Atlantic Theater Company production on Wednesday, Victoria Clark brings it to life so believably and magnificently that you find yourself rooting out a kiss that you might find creepy otherwise.

This is no surprise; Clark, 62, is one of our wonderful singing actors who has positioned himself exactly at the intersection of two impossible arts. Role after role—especially As a worried mother in “The Light in the Piazza” He won a Tony Award in 2005 – he does the music for the thought itself, not the afterthought to the character.

What NS Surprisingly, “Kimberly Akimbo” is based on 2000 games of the same name A similar feat is achieved by David Lindsay-Abaire. Unlike the adaptations, which do little more than nail sheetrock to the bare bits of the borrowed story and have about the same elegance, this one—with music by Jeanine Tesori and lyrics by a book and Lindsay-Abaire—remakes the original in new terms. beautiful songs that tell us new things.

This is done without undue violence to the ingenious original premise that makes comedy tragedy, as we should all do. Kimberly is burdened not only by an illness with an average life expectancy of 16 (“Only average,” she says cheerfully), but also by a family that doesn’t manage the illness as well as she does.

Her mother, Pattie (Alli Mauzey), is ridiculously hypochondriac, as if she were making up for the chromosomal crash that caused her fast-aging child. His father, Buddy (Steven Boyer), is extremely irresponsible, rebuffs and stuns himself. His aunt Debra (Bonnie Milligan) is a jovial, depraved whirlwind of bad ideas crouching in a Levaco basement to further a check fraud scheme. In a house filled with impulsive, appetizing childishness, Kimberly is an adult by default, who has to feed Pattie her morning cereal because both of her arms are in a cast.

It’s this quality more than her looks that makes Kimberly an outcast at school. The upside is that it draws him to the über-nerd Seth, who plays in 18-year-old Justin Cooley’s awesome New York debut. Seth is very familiar with early adult syndrome: his widowed father barely notices him, leaving him (like the title of one of his songs) to figure out how to be a “good boy” on his own. Noticing this trait in each other, Seth and Kimberly bond over their parallel disorder: their obsession with anagrams and its genetically scrambled codons.

Each of these themes produces a wonderful and unexpected song that pushes the plot forward while deepening the characterizations. In the first, Seth tries to anagram “Kimberly Levaco” as he tries to anagram his weird stubs to solutions (“My black olive! My love like a crab!”) view: “I like the way you look at life and think outside the box.” “A little weird. A little off. A little unorthodox.”

And he deviates from the script that Kimberly and Seth wrote about him when students present science projects about diseases of their choice in a hilarious community called “Our Disease.” His classmates may have chosen scurvy and fasciolosis, but their real concern is “a bad case of puberty.” “Getting old is my affliction. / Getting old is your cure.”

Fascinatingly played by Olivia Elease Hardy, Fernell Hogan II, Nina White, and Michael Iskander, these classmates are the most obvious addition to the musical, invented to provide social context, a singing ensemble, and broader humor. Less convincingly, Lindsay-Abaire links them to the story as accomplices in Aunt Debra’s fake control scheme; they hope to raise enough money to purchase flamboyant costumes for a show choir competition. I won’t complain, though, as this allows them to provide backup for Milligan’s barn-burn numbers.

It’s old news that Tesori can write any type of music. (For more evidence, seeCaroline or Change”, now on Broadway.) The obvious thing about “Kimberly Akimbo” is that she can write for any show without fail. Finding the right moments and tone for the songs can’t be easy in a two-sided story like this, where every joke is also a memento mori. (The number one is called “The Inevitable Turn.”) The world of sound, including ukulele tunes, surprise double tunes, and smoothie pastiche, is most similar to the stage musical “Shrek,” another collaboration with Lindsay-Abaire, but the inevitable turnaround is material. richer and more craving as demands.

As her star demands. I wish Clark had a bigger solo in the penultimate scene; until then, we have earned the right to make an important statement from an artist who can present it.

I will add that as long as we choose perfection, “Kimberly Akimbo” is not yet what it could be. The New Jersey environment is clearly and badly characterized, but the so-called period in 1999 is not; the father’s bow is not sharply written; and the use of high school students to fill in songs they don’t normally belong to feels unmotivated. While sharp in its emotional details, the staging of Jessica Stone by David Zinn on an obscure set and choreographed by Danny Mefford is physically incompetent. Scenes at an ice rink can also be set in an empty mall for all the action they have to offer.

But these are really minor complaints about a show that does so many important things so right. “Kimberly Akimbo” is a rare example of a good play that becomes an even better musical. It warms up the craziness of the original without going overboard and making it “normal”. Instead of cringing as if ashamed of the extent that music can bring to drama, it embraces the song’s ability to radiate emotion into greater realms, even in tragicomedy.

And don’t let its sheer arbitrariness lead you to think this isn’t a tragicomedy. To see an old hand like Clark spark sparks with a newcomer like Cooley is to feel how fast the world turns. They sing in the finale (“Kimberly Akimbo” luckily succeeded). It might be an old-fashioned “carpe diem” message—or a “crazy recipe” as Seth might have it—but in this case, it makes for an utterly hearty meal, leavened with exceptional craft.

kimberly akimbo
At the Linda Gross Theater in Manhattan until January 2; atlantictheater.org. Working time: 2 hours 20 minutes.

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