Victoria Clark in Kimberly Akimbo
Photograph: Courtesy Joan MarcusKimberly Akimbo
  • Theater, Musicals
  • Recommended


Kimberly Akimbo

5 out of 5 stars

Last year's best musical shines even brighter on Broadway.


Time Out says

Broadway review by Adam Feldman

Sixteen is not sweet for the heroine of the bruisingly joyful new musical Kimberly Akimbo. Adapted by David Lindsay-Abaire from his own 2001 play, with music by Jeanine Tesori (Caroline, or Change), the show has a central conceit that verges on magical realism: Kimberly Levaco suffers from an unnamed, “incredibly rare” genetic disorder that makes her age at a superfast rate. Played by the 63-year-old Victoria Clark, she is physically and psychically out of place among her high school peers, who have more conventional adolescent problems like unrequited crushes. “Getting older is my affliction,” the usually mild-mannered Kimberly sings in a rare burst of confrontation. “Getting older is your cure.”  

Life at home in New Jersey with her boozy, incompetently protective father (Steven Boyer) and her pregnant, hypochondriacal and self-absorbed mother (Alli Mauzey) is even less appealing. But as Kimberly stares into a cruelly foreshortened future—the life expectancy for people with her illness is, yes, 16—two agents of disruption reframe her perspective. The first is her aunt Debra (the unstoppable Bonnie Milligan), a hilarious gale force of chaos who blows into town and quickly recruits her niece into an elaborate check-fraud scheme. The other is Seth (the winsome and natural Justin Cooley), a gentle, tuba-playing classmate with an affinity for anagrams that suggests, to Kimberly, that maybe he could shake her up and rearrange her too.

Kimberly Akimbo | Photograph: Courtesy Joan Marcus

Clever, touching and idiosyncratic, Kimberly Akimbo was the best new musical of 2021, when it premiered Off Broadway at the Atlantic. The dark absurdist comedy of Lindsay-Abaire’s original play—reminiscent of Christopher Durang, John Guare and the playwright’s own Fuddy Meers—remains, but it is tempered by the addition of Tesori’s winding, agile melodies and a geek chorus of four students (Olivia Elease Hardy, Fernell Hogan, Nina White and Michael Iskander) twined in a daisy chain of frustrated romance. In the hands of these gifted writers, material that might have been rendered as merely zany has human and forgiving dimensions, and the score finds sneaky ways to break your heart even as it maintains a general air of cheer. (Kimberly’s establishing number, known in showtune lingo as her “I Want” song, is literally a letter to the Make-a-Wish Foundation.) 

Jessica Stone’s ideally cast production has now moved to Broadway’s Booth Theatre, where David Zinn’s sets and Sarah Laux’s costumes help summon a world of 1999 teen culture before the spread of cell phones. Tweaked in several ways—including a superior Act One finale—the show works even better than it did before: It still feels intimate, but the larger audience lets the show land big laughs as well as moments of stung collective sympathy, and the performances pop with fresh energy. Milligan’s insouciant comedy and supercharged vocals put an original spin on every trick up Debra’s sleeve, and Boyer and Mauzey imbue the flailing parents with glimmers of real weirdness. And Clark—who hasn’t had a Broadway role worthy of her talent since The Light in the Piazza—is just plain wonderful here. Her Kimberly is a special creation, at once younger than her years and old before her time; if her relationship with Seth recalls the title characters in Harold and Maude, it’s not quite obvious which is which. Mortality is in every beat of this show, but less like a clock than like a pulse. As Kimberly sings: “I know I might be dying”—aren’t we all?—"but I’m not dead.”

Kimberly Akimbo. Booth Theatre (Broadway). Book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire. Music by Jeanine Tesori. Directed by Jessica Stone. With Victoria Clark, Justin Cooley, Steven Boyer, Alli Mauzey, Bonnie Milligan Running time: 2hrs 20mins. One intermission. 

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Kimberly Akimbo | Photograph: Courtesy Joan Marcus


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