David Lindsay-Abaire’s dark 2001 play has been musicalized with lyrics by Abaire’s and music by Jeanine Tesori(Caroline, or Change). The title comes from Kimberly Levaco’s (the fabulous Victoria Clark) name. Her tuba-playing high school classmate Seth (the grounding Justin Cooley), is the first person to see her as a real person. His addiction to anagrams scrambles the letters of her name and rearranges them to “Cleverly Akimbo.”
Kimberly, has a rare genetic disorder that causes her body to age 4-5 times faster than normal. Most people with this disorder don’t live past 16 and Kimberly is almost there. Kimberly not only has to deal with her disease, but her dysfunctional family as well. Her father Buddy (the winning Steven Boyer) is an alcoholic, who loves his daughter, but forgets the important things like her 16th birthday.
Her mom Pattie (the terrific Alli Mauzey), is heavily pregnant, self-absorbed with two bandaged paws and a victim’s attitude. Both are more like teenager’s than Kimberly, who ends up having to parent them both. The real wounds have little to do with Kimberly’s illness, but the absence of a healthy family bond and her mother’s rejection of her firstborn child.
Then there’s Aunt Debra (the powerhouse Bonnie Milligan), who is on parole and pops up like a bad penny. She wants her niece to help her in her latest scheme.
In the meantime there is a show choir of misfits (Olivia Elease Hardy, Fernell Hogan II, Michael Iskander, and Nina White) that befriend Kimberly and join in the caper to get costumes for their choir.
Clark performance is heartfelt and touching. We see the 15/ 16 year-old trapped inside this aging body. She makes lemonade out of the moldy mess life has given her. We ache as we know her dreams will never be fulfilled. We suffer silently as we learn her needs have and will never be met. We cheer as Seth sees her and helps cushion the blows she has been dealt. Clark makes us feel all of this and more.
Milligan brings the audience to their feet with her soaring vocals and comedic chops. Truly it is the cast that makes this show.
The show is 2hrs 20 minutes, but Jessica Stone’s direction keeps up the pace. Danny Medford’s choreography, is unique. David Zinn’s set transforms the stage into a skating rink, the Levaco’s home, the school library, and Kim’s bedroom. it is well done and seamless.
Lindsay-Abaire’s lyrics and Tesori’s music are forgettable and one wonders why was this musicalized. Though the cast is amazing, we are seeing flawed people hurt and create chaos for people who deserve kindness. Why?
Kimberly Akimbo: Atlantic Theatre Company, Linda Gross Theater, 336 W 20th Street, through January 2, 2022.