‘Kimberly Akimbo’ is on Broadway, and the world is better for it.

Comment

NEW YORK — Like caramel sauce and the 1967 Mustang, “Kimberly Akimbo” is one of those near-perfect inventions that convinces you the world isn’t so bad after all. Hilarious and heartbreaking, it’s the kind of entertainment – wise, quirky, moving – that makes musical theater one of the best things ever made in America.

At the center of the musical is a captivating performance by Victoria Clark that may have audiences asking after the show – which had its official Broadway opening on Thursday night at the Booth Theater – to embrace it. Okay, since she’s 63, that would probably be frowned upon. But in David Lindsay-Abaire and Jeanine Tesori’s two-act musical, Clark plays a 15-year-old so convincingly that it wouldn’t be surprising if the younger cast members didn’t pick up a pointer or two. on the representation of people. their own age.

That’s not to diminish the particular accomplishments of each in this exemplary cast of nine, unfolding the story of a New Jersey teenager named Kimberly who is aging at “four or five times” the normal rate due to a rare genetic condition. . Vanity – based on Lindsay-Abaire’s 2000 play of the same title – has us rocking the whole evening between laughter and tears, as Kimberly is forced to deal with the complicated issues of growing up and getting old. All at the same time.

The actors reprise the roles they originated last year at the Atlantic Theater off-Broadway, in a Jessica Stone-directed production that feels even more assured and lyrically tighter. Justin Cooley, playing Seth, a high school nerd whose afterschool flex is the anagrams, makes a smash Broadway debut as a kid who sees Kimberly’s spirit rather than her wrinkles. Alli Mauzey and Steven Boyer excel as Pattie and Buddy, the immature parents who don’t know how to love Kimberly. Above and beyond is Bonnie Milligan, portraying Pattie’s lascivious sister, Debra, a woman with no known address but who could be elected president if she could redirect that cyclonic energy away from anti-social impulses.

Lindsay-Abaire and Tesori set “Kimberly Akimbo” in the northern New Jersey suburb of Bergen County, where everything is supposed to strive for middle-of-the-road serenity but is, in fact, a hotbed of dysfunction. “Akimbo”, with its connotation of chance, could be the nickname Buddy and Pattie give to their house: for all intents and purposes, they and Debra are children and Kimberly the beleaguered adult, enduring their moans and trying to talk them out of their bad ideas. .

Don’t let the story’s modest narrative boundaries make you feel like it’s not Broadway-boffo. Not all musicals need a chorus. Well, actually, this one has an endearing mini version, via performances by Olivia Elease Hardy, Fernell Hogan, Nina White, and Michael Iskander as Seth and Kimberly’s romantically confused classmates. Luckily, these aren’t loud, eye-rolling cartoons; they are sympathetic children who gradually pass through one emotional phase after another – with recognizable outbursts of insecurity, selfishness, terror and sweetness.

Clark’s Kimberly is indeed epic, a profile of courage, a heroic display of grace in potentially the most bitter of circumstances. She doesn’t have what appears in “Kimberly Akimbo” as an absolute luxury: time. (People with her condition, she reports, only live to be 16, on average.) You can experience Kimberly’s story as a courageous affirmation of the recommendation that artists have been advocating for centuries: live really, fully, now. “Getting old is my affliction,” Kimberly sings to her classmates. “Getting old is your cure.”

Lindsay-Abaire’s book and lyrics and Tesori’s music are inspired by the Kimberly they imagine: Kimberly does her best not to feel sorry for herself, and the authors pay homage to her by not allowing us not to sentimentalize her much either. (His aging disease is never named, not even in the hilarious class scene in Act 2, when the students pair up in class to sing their reports of the diseases they’ve chosen to study. .)

The score exudes the sharpness of observational comedy – the kind reminiscent of the skill of songwriting finely tailored to the contours of character and motivation. “Hello, Darling”, the lullaby sung by Mauzey’s pregnant Pattie and covered by Boyer’s Buddy, functions as both a fun commentary on expecting a child and Pattie and Buddy’s ignorance: the melody can be thrown in the key to education, but the words make it clear that this chronically unhappy couple is incapable of protecting the beings they bring into the world from their petty grievances and anxieties.

Then there’s the Act 2 opener, “How to Wash a Check,” one of the wacky numbers given to Debra de Milligan, who, in the basement of Pattie and Buddy’s house, offers to Kimberly and her impressionable pals an introduction to the counterfeit scheme she sucked all into. (Don’t try to write a scene like this at home; making the setup laugh is top-notch musical comedy composition.)

High school life in the suburbs is resonantly evoked by set designer David Zinn, in scenes of beanbag chairs in the school library and ice skaters gliding around the local rink where Seth works and makes announcements on a system badly amplified sound system. Costume designer Sarah Laux dresses everyone aptly as if she bought them at the Hackensack mall, with special attention given to Kimberly’s outfits, sweaters with embroidered flowers, and more.

The costumes certainly contribute to the illusion that Clark is a teenager, although she doesn’t seem to need much help. The liberation from the restrictions of time and age is remarkable in the depiction: it conveys a mysterious blend of innocence and wisdom, both youthful impetuosity and mature vision. It’s sometimes hard to reconcile this Victoria Clark with the Victoria Clark who won a Tony 17 years ago as the wise mother of a mentally handicapped daughter in Adam Guettel’s lyric “The Light in the Piazza.” .

Ah, that’s right – acting! You won’t find anything akimbo with this Kimberly. Or askew in this charming and embraceable spectacle.

Kimberly Akimbo, book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire, music by Jeanine Tesori. Directed by Jessica Stone. Choreography, Danny Mefford; musical direction, Chris Fenwick; sets, David Zinn; costumes, Sarah Laux; lighting, Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew; sound, Kai Harada; orchestrations, John Clancy. About 2h30. At the Booth Theater, 222 W. 45th St., New York. download.com.

Leave a Comment