Full-Hearted, Hilarious And Exceedingly Human – “Kimberly Akimbo”

The cast of the Tony Award-winning musical, "Kimberly Akimbo"
The cast of “Kimberly Akimbo” (photo: Joan Marcus)

The magic happening on the stage of the Booth Theater on Broadway is full-hearted, hilarious, and exceedingly human. Adapted by David Lindsay-Abaire from his own 2001 play, with music by Jeanine Tesori (Caroline, or Change), Kimberly Akimbo is a delightful deconstruction of the meaning of life that leaves you surprisingly buoyant and hopeful.

The story is set in a 1990s New Jersey high school where Kimberly Levaco (a luminous Victoria Clark earning her second Tony Award) is living with an unnamed rare genetic disorder that causes her to age 4-5 times the normal rate. We learn the average life expectancy for someone with this disease is 16 years old (“Just an average, though!” she reminds one of her classmates), and that milestone is looming on the horizon. But ever the optimist, Kimberly is determined to find happiness and embark on a great adventure.


Her dad (Steven Boyer) is thisclose to being an alcoholic. Her pregnant mom (Alli Mauzey) is a hypochondriac. Her aunt Debra – Bonnie Milligan in a Tony Award-winning performance – is a con woman interested primarily in her next score. Check out this show-stopping musical moment, “Better,” that makes clear why Milligan took home a Tony Award for her knock-out performance:


While her family members seem to see their dreams in the rearview mirror, Kimberly is focused on a “no regrets” mindset living and learning her way through life with her new friends at school, who sometimes function as a delightfully uncool Greek chorus.

Among them is the nerdy-but-cute and oh-so-charming classmate Seth (Justin Cooley in a spectacular Broadway debut). They initially come together for a science class project, but their bond grows deeper with a chemistry that is irresistible. In one of the show’s emotional high points, “Anagrams,” a guileless Kimberly experiences her first spark of teen romance as Seth dreams up her anagram nickname of the title.


And yes, there’s an LGBTQ component to the show as our geeky Greek chorus timidly crushes on each other while figuring out their emerging sexual identities.

When we first meet the quartet, it quickly becomes clear that: Aaron (Michael Iskander) has a crush on Delia (Olivia Elease Hardy), who has a crush on Teresa (Nina White), who has a crush on Martin (Fernell Hogan), who has a crush on Aaron. With tentative dipping of the toes into their romantic interests, it ultimately takes Aunt Debra to move things along.

“You’re smart kids, but not the most intuitive, so let’s just nip this in the bud,” she tells them. “Straight-gay-straight-gay,” she declares as she walks behind each one tapping them with each designation. “We done?” After a moment of silence, Aunt Debra adds, “I just saved you two years of therapy.” As the show progresses, there’s more delicious teen self-consciousness that just about every audience member can relate to.

Nina White, Michael Iskander, Fernell Hogan, Olivia Hardy (photo: Joan Marcus)

Related: Broadway’s Flashy, Sassy Gender Fluid Hit

It would have been easy to take this story and go the sad route. But instead of dark and depressing, the creative team never lets us stray far from the utterly human awkwardness of what it is to be a high school teen. And it’s these scenes of lightness and charm among these “kids” that set up some of the show’s most moving, affecting moments.

In Act Two, as her classmates wonder about what lies ahead in their lives, Kimberly considers the brevity of her life story. The subtle expression on her face – and the acceptance of her fate – is a quiet heartbreaker. Later, there comes a tender moment of stillness as Kimberly looks into the audience, seemingly entranced, captured by some blissful, euphoric imagining. The audience leans in, and we are captivated by our quirky underdog.

And then, of course, there’s the sub-plot where Aunt Deb talks Kimberly and her friends into a check stealing scheme because…why not?


The entire cast is strong with the very notable Victoria Clark, whose “Kimberly” is the stuff of theatrical magic; and Bonnie Milligan’s “Aunt Debra,” a comedic force of nature. Kudos to the creative team led by director Jessica Stone for delivering to us an experience both unique and universal, hilarious and heartbreaking. Here’s the cast and creative team sharing their thoughts:

Kimberly Akimbo was honored with 5 Tony Awards this year, including Best Musical, Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical (Victoria Clark), Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical (Bonnie Milligan), Best Book of a Musical (David Lindsay-Abaire), and Best Original Score (Jeanine Tesori, David Lindsay-Abaire).


Related: “Sweeney Todd” – A Soaring Serving Of Revenge

And the queer theatre critics threw down much love as well. GALECA: The Society of LGBTQ Entertainment Critics honored Kimberly Akimbo with 4 Dorian Awards: Outstanding Broadway Musical, Outstanding Lead Performance in a Broadway Musical (Victoria Clark), Outstanding Featured Performance in a Broadway Musical (Bonnie Milligan), and Outstanding Broadway Ensemble.

Kimberly Akimbo is definitely down for becoming one of our new favorite musicals. Go see this show! (5 stars) You can check out the show’s sizzle reel below.

It’s been a great year for new productions on Broadway. And whether you lean towards brash, broad musical comedy (Some Like It Hot), musical murder and mayhem (Sweeney Todd), or more intimate and heartwarming fare (Kimberly Akimbo), there’s definitely something outstanding waiting for you right now on the Great White Way.

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