Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Kimberly Akimbo (Broadway)


Kimberly Levaco (Victoria Clark) with her mom Pattie (Alli Mauzey) and dad Buddy (Steven Boyer) abruptly move house to New Jersey without much explanation. She is suffering from a disease that makes her age four times faster than average, and is finding it hard to adjust not just at her new school, but also at their new life. To some extent, the friends she meets at school make coping easier. Delia (Olivia Elease Hardy), Martin (Fernell Hogan II), Aaron (Micheal Iskander), and Teresa (Nina White) all have unrequited love towards one another and are preparing for a performance at the school show choir. It is Seth (Justin Cooley) who she warms up to and considers a potential love interest as she navigates her already complicated life. Things get worse when her Aunt Debra (Bonnie Milligan) suddenly shows up and proposes a bank heist that would involve all of them.

This Tony award winning musical does not disappoint, thanks mainly to the witty script and heartfelt execution from the cast. While the high school setting signals teenybopper and, indeed, there are plenty of that to go around, what stands out is the totally different outlook of a teenager doomed by her illness to experience old age when everybody else is just beginning to figure out their lives. It is an honest look at mortality, our inevitable ending, through the lens of an impending premature conclusion.

Most illnesses that make it onstage are usually mental in nature or something fully blown and considered an epidemic such as AIDS. It is the first time that I am seeing a protagonist with progeria. This condition itself is not that well known to many, which is why this is a perfect opportunity to shed light on it, and Kimberly Akimbo just does it with enough song and dance to keep you entertained and interested, yet with enough gravitas care of the cast’s acting to remind you of the gravity of the situation.

Both Clark and Millligan have won Tonys for their portrayal of their respective roles in this musical. After seeing the duo in action, it isn’t difficult to understand why. The auntie-niece rapport is strong and they form a formidable onstage duo. Perhaps what makes the two of them memorable, though, is how their characters seem to be exact opposites. Here you have a full grown adult that should be fully functional but is simply immature, and there you have a teenager who has to mature fast to deal with her extraordinary condition.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a single song that left an impression on me, even though most of them were really funny and enjoyable. I guess I might just have to listen to the soundtrack over and over again to give it a second chance. This is mostly how I get to fully appreciate a musical’s soundtrack after watching anyway. You don’t have to worry, though, because nobody in the cast is a freeloader and all songs are sung con mucho gusto and enough credibility.

As for the storyline, I find it kind of odd, but it is that oddity that actually gives the narrative that kind of quirky plot development that keeps you hooked. As outrageous as it may seem, the bank heist they are planning is made believable with an easier suspension of disbelief because of Kimberly’s condition. While we are curious as to how the fallout would come to be, maybe that is not the point of this musical after all, given how the storyline is heavily reliant on the living-life-to-the-fullest mantra.

Did Kimberly die? Probably, but this is best left to your imagination as long as the musical establishes and stays true to its thesis statement. As the cast encourages you towards the end, they do blatantly say, “no one gets a second time around”. Maybe Kimberly won’t but you, as a member of the audience, might still get a round two. And that is the most important message the musical imparts.

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