Off-Broadway Musical ‘Kimberly Akimbo’ is an Original and Compelling Comedy-Drama

Victoria Clark plays a teenage girl with Methuselah syndrome in “Kimberly Akimbo”. Photo by Ahron R. Foster / ahronfoster.com

Actors sometimes get on fire for not playing their age, especially for playing younger than their age, but Kimberly Akimbo takes this trend to a bizarre new level. This original and captivating musical by David Lindsay-Abaire and Jeanine Tesori, premiered on Off-Broadway at the Atlantic Theater Company, has a 62-year-old actress named Victoria Clark.

It’s a bittersweet 16. Kimberly Levaco is a teenage girl with Methuselah Syndrome, a rare (and fatal) genetic condition that causes her to age at over four and a half times the normal rate. By the time she hits the full bloom of adolescence, she’s ready to cash in her chips. “Growing old is my affliction,” she sings to her high school friends. “Getting older is your remedy. ”

Most important among the pleasures of this show is seeing a seasoned Broadway veteran blend into a slender, innocent and unpretentious young girl. Clark parks her star status at the stage door and surrenders to the character she is playing. “We all have these different facets of our personality,” insists the actress. “As actors, we can tap into these different people who live inside us and give them airtime. There has always been a big child inside of me, so it’s the joy – and also the difficulty – of this role, to really access her and give her free rein.

“It’s rigorous for me in every way – physically, emotionally, vocally – but I would say that every part of my life experience and my experience as an actor comes into play. I feel like I have tapped into a deep part of myself that wants to fight mortality and bathe in the beauty of being alive.

It was Tesori who recruited a reluctant Clark to Kimberly Akimbo. “Almost two years ago, she called me and told me that she was working on something that I might be interested in,” recalls Clark. “I didn’t sound good about it, but she persisted and sent me some of the music. I still said, ‘Oh, no. It’s not for my voice. You need a great old Broadway pop singer. She just said, ‘Trust me.’ “

A gang of three – Tesori, Lindsay-Abaire, and director Jessica Stone – finally convinced Clark to take the plunge, and the result is that she’s garnered some of the best reviews of her career. Yes, she is happy to have said yes. “These are artists who are in the prime of their lives. They asked me to watch it and then come and talk to them about it. The score really touches me and the story is so amazing.

The start after the pandemic was difficult. “We all came out of hibernation for this project. It was very strange going back to work, but Jessica had a very clear vision of what she wanted.

Kimberly Akimbo is an eerie dramatic comedy with an off-center charm and poignant underpinnings. In turn, this can be deeply funny or deeply moving. “It’s David and Jeanine,” Clark said, immediately spotting the instigators. “They have such extremes inside of themselves. They have wit, humor, and nonchalance, along with that work ethic that is incredibly distilled and defines them as artists. They dig, and this show takes a lot of digging for the actors.

This is not the first time that Clark has met a musical heroine with an age difference. In his Tony Award-winning role in 2005 in Craig Lucas and Adam Guettel Light in the Piazza, she was a mother from the south who was spending the summer in Florence with a 26-year-old daughter, who, due to a childhood accident, stuck in the mind of a 10-year-old. She watches the girl fall in love with a rich and ardent Italian who interprets her condition as innocence and proposes marriage.

Likewise, Kimberly is out of place in the real world, a painfully visible misfit with her teenage best friends. She ignores the threat of pregnancy with “I had menopause four years ago.”

She doesn’t even belong at home. His peculiar illness prompted his father (Hand to god‘s Steven Boyer) to drink and his mother (Cry baby‘s Alli Mauzey) to another pregnancy, hoping for better results. So Kimberly finds her bedroom transformed into a nursery, forcing her to hit the road with her “love interest”, an anagram and tuba-obsessed nerd named Seth (Justin Cooley). Kimberly’s Aunt Debra (Head on head‘s Bonnie Milligan), an ex-convict trying to organize local youth in a money laundering scheme. Milligan’s Aunt Debra sweeps the scenes right and left as she wreaks comedic havoc wherever she goes.

“It’s such a joy to work with these actors,” says Clark. “Sometimes when I’m really exhausted I just think, ‘Well, I can see Bonnie, Alli and Steve, the whole gang. They are amazing.

As for Cooley, his boss, he is 18, a music student at Texas Christian University for his Off-Broadway debut. Plus, she adds, “He’s very grounded and present, with great instincts.”

Sarah Laux, who made the costumes, and J. Jared Janas, who designed the wigs, are Clark’s main accomplices in creating his contradictory image. “They really helped define this character,” she admits. “Even in my head, I pictured Kim in that gray dress and sweatshirt. We started the fittings very early in the rehearsal process, and Sarah said, ‘Kim is a badass. I think she dyes her hair. I think she has colored streaks in her hair. Sarah really resurrected her own badass from her teenage years for me. I was definitely not a badass. I was a nice girl – dumb, trying to find my look. I wore a uniform for 12 years of private school. I didn’t know what to wear to Friday night soccer games or how to talk to the boys. Kim looks a lot better than me.

One of the pleasant side effects of Kimberly Akimbo is that it allows Clark to revisit his days at dear old Hockaday, a girls’ school in Dallas. She says it was a good way to go, but “there are some key players who are not there anymore. I wish my mom and dad could see that. My best friend from elementary school came over. Everyone I loved who came to see him, there was crying and gnashing of teeth. People who know me know it’s a trip.

Reviews for the play have been favorable and rumor has it that it will make the leap to upscale neighborhoods by spring the way The group’s visit Atlantic pole vault on Broadway and the Tony podium. “The cast is the last to find out,” says Clark. “We just keep our heads down and don’t read the reviews.

“But, personally, I would like to share it with as many people as possible because I think any story that is about perseverance and overcoming personal struggles to embrace life is the story we need right now. Kim is an unlikely hero. Most of our heroes’ journeys are, let’s face it, done by men. The fact that it’s a woman — and a young woman, too — is very powerful, I think.

“I would like people to get the feeling that life is short but that it is precious. Carpe Diem! Stop complaining about what you don’t have. Enjoy every moment. Do not hide.

Bittersweet 16: Victoria Clark is 62, 16 in 'Kimberly Akimbo'