We made one of our twice-a-year visits to New York theater last month to catch almost certain Tony nominees and a couple of shows that opened just after we were there last fall. Intermittently before the certain-to-be-strange June 11 Tony Awards, we will share reviews of seven productions and performances that may or may not win, may or may not tour. The shows are: Life of Pi, Parade, Sweeney Todd, Some Like It Hot, Kimberly Akimbo, Peter Pan Goes Wrong and The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window. Links to other reviews in this series can be found at the bottom as the reviews run. Last November, we reviewed contenders Leopoldstadt, & Juliet and Death of a Salesman.
By Bill Hirschman
The musical Kimberly Akimbo sounds like the premise for a Disney comedy from the last century like Freaky Friday: A teenager afflicted with a disease that ages her 4 ½ times faster than normal tries to cope at the same time with the normal challenges of adolescence.
But the 2000 original play by David Lindsay-Abaire now amplified and deepened by a score by Jeanine Tesori may still have laughs but its initial strength and its continued impact is the deep affecting portrait not just of adolescence but the importance of savoring life.
Kimberly may have this added challenge, but the writers intentionally have made her only one of a quintet of teens who feel like outsiders struggling with the traditional woes of puberty plus identity issues. So she is meant as an easily identifiable stand-in for us all.
While there are humorous aspects such as her grifter aunt leading the teens in a silly check-forging fraud, Kimberly’s struggle is crippled by the fact that her father is an alcoholic and her mother is obsessed with the pregnancy with a second child. Both subtly treat her a step or two removed as if her existence is some kind of rebuke for failure on their part. The mother remarks to her off-handedly, “You cost me my prom.”
Threaded throughout is Kimberly’s far-too-tested hope that her parents have or will change. While she has many past experiences to undercut it, she has a young person’s hope as she says, “I want to believe – this time.”
Without giving much away, there is teenage bonding, lovely music, character and plot arcs as complex as real life, and a brilliantly bittersweet if hopeful “separate peace” driven by understanding with forgiveness.
And again, did we forget to mention that that the overriding tone is a comedy, well, a human comedy rooted in human failings, but definitely a wry, rue-filled character-based comedy.
A don’t-miss national tour has been announced for 2025 but it won’t have the current blessing of a terrific central performance of a 63-year-old Victoria Clark convincingly inhabiting Kimberly. Her voice is a well-documented national treasure as heard in Light in the Piazza. But her acting here is jaw-dropping in becoming not creating a credible teenager, but one who knows (and which the writers only barely mention) will die before enjoying everything that a teenager has ahead of her.
Blessed with a terrific supporting cast and fine direction, the production exudes a warmth. Somehow without preaching or being cloying or even saying its themes straight out, the evening is suffused with the gentle message that we must value life no matter our age or past or future.
The production’s off-Broadway run won Best Musical prizes at the Drama Desk, Lucille Lortel, and Outer Critics Circle Awards. It is nominated in the Tony competition this weekend for musical, leading actress, director, featured actor for Justin Cooley playing Kimberly’s new teenage nerd-buddy, Bonnie Milligan as the over-the-top felony-likely aunt, book, score and orchestrations.
Review of Life of Pi, click here.
Review of Some Like It Hot, click here
Review of Review of Sweeney Todd, click here.
Review of The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s window, click here
Review of Parade, click here