David Lindsay-Abaire’s Wonderful New Musical – The Hollywood Reporter

Meet your new favorite music. when Kimberly Akimbo Premiered at Atlantic Theater Company last December, it’s a breath of fresh air, an intimate show about teenage missteps and the unreliable adults in their world that unmistakably grounds hilarious comedy in painfully poignant and emotional truth. Transferring intact to Broadway, this small-scale charmer retains its distinctive qualities but is enriched, breaking out into a sea of ​​remastered films, jukebox anthologies and revivals as a burst of exciting originality.

Okay, so strictly speaking, it’s not an original work but a reinvention of David Lindsay-Abaire’s 2001 play about a lonely teenager suffering from a rare rapid aging disease like progeria, which makes her age four and a half times the normal rate. She is 16 years old – the average life expectancy for her disease – with a body of seven. But in reimagining the work with composer Jeanine Tesori, his collaborator in his stage version ShrekLindsay-Abaire has created something extraordinarily satisfying, new music so clever, funny and touching you might want to give everyone on stage a hug.

With credits incl A fun house, Caroline, or Change And Purple, Tesori is no stranger to adapting unlikely source material into unconventional musical theater. her score Kimberly Akimbo Melody is especially strong, striking the show’s tonal contrasts with jaunty tunes often playing counter to themes of mourning, loneliness, family dysfunction and death. As with all of Tesori’s best work, what is consistent is how seamlessly he integrates the songs into the scenes of the book.

Victoria Clark, Tony winner The Light in the Piazza, reprising her exquisitely nuanced performance in the title role – as Atlantic’s entire 9-person ensemble, Jessica Stone makes her sparkling Broadway directorial debut. And the production fits well on the snug Booth Theater stage, scaling back a bit without sacrificing its disarmingly rough edges at any concession to Broadway slickness.

Kimberly may be young in years, but she grew up in a household where her flaky dad Buddy (Steven Boyer) is mostly drowned in beer and her hypochondriac mother Patty (Ali Mouzy) laments her marital missteps. And pregnant right out of high school. She’s pinning all her hopes on the new — and she prays for a “normal” — baby she’s expecting, which leaves Kimberly largely oblivious to the ways it hurts.

The miracle of Lindsay-Abaire’s writing is that while Patty and Buddy are oblivious no-hopers whose daily contributions to the pledge jar are the least of their parental misdeeds, the show views them with infinite sympathy. As does Kimberly.

With invaluable help from set designer David Zinn and costumer Sarah Locks, Stone describes her milieu — blue-collar Bergen County, New Jersey in 1999 — as a slipstream of missed opportunity with windows of happiness for those brave enough to open them. It takes Kimberly’s unflinching acceptance of her circumstances to awaken their sensibilities, as does her justified anger at her parents’ immaturity. But even then, the family remains on shaky ground; A happy dinner interlude is underscored by the realization that things can go south very quickly in the song “The Inevitable Turn.”

Kimberly’s life brightens up a bit when she strikes up an inappropriate friendship with fellow tuba-playing classmate Seth (Justin Cooley). An unabashed nerd with a fascination for riddles and anagrams, he scrambles her name as Kimberly Levaco in a deft akimbo that expands our insight into both characters.

As Seth plays with different word combinations, Kimberly studies him as she sits and sings her inner thoughts: “I like the way you understand / I like the way you think / A little weird / A little wise / A little out of sync / I like your perspective.” The simplicity of those lyrics is Lindsay- Abair is characterized by his ability to find unexpected beauty in his skive connections.

Kimberly’s Aunt Debra (Bonnie Milligan), an agent of change who expands their world beyond the home, school and local skate rink where Seth works part-time, doesn’t go down like a disruptive tornado.

Precious Milligan (short-lived go-go music headliner, Head over heels) may be giving the most brilliantly funny performance on Broadway right now, whose past transgressions lead Kimberly’s family to hastily relocate from another borough. His eulogy of improving one’s “shit life” by any means necessary, “Better” is a riotous pot-bellied background bio and a paean to shady opportunism.

Debra ropes Kimberly and Seth — along with four classmates (Olivia Elise Hardy, Fernell Hogan, Michael Iskander and Nina White), preparing for a show-singing competition while struggling with romantic crossed wires — into an elaborate check-forging scheme. Debra’s mission to resolve her sexual confusion while indoctrinating children in crime gets the show’s biggest laughs.

Adolescent uncertainty and longing are key themes explored with surprising depth given the breezy humor that is the musical’s dominant tone. As the students present biology projects describing various diseases in the utterly delightful “Our Disease,” a shaken Kimberly notes that scurvy, fasciolosis, and her own condition she and Seth have chosen as their topics. Diseases Exhibit B is adolescence, its peer pressure, anxiety, bruised egos and escalating malaise.

“Growing old is my affliction,” she sings. “Growing old is your cure.” Moments like these, shifting from comedy to pathos in an instant, are likely to find you laughing while holding back tears more than once during the show. While the ending seems inexorable toward heartbreak, Lindsey-Abaire and Tesori gracefully sidestep that finality by closing on a note that carries joy and release. It’s a musical whose emotions are full-throated, but honest, never deceptive.

The performances of the entire cast are in perfect harmony with the offbeat material, with all the four high schools that make up the ensemble portraying different characters. Boyer and Mauze dig deep into their problem-parent characters to find humanity in their screwups and flaws and empathy in their fragile hopes, while Milligan makes an irresistible comeback with killer comic timing.

Cooley, on an elegant New York stage, is a major discovery, playing a character who could easily be a bundle of understudied contractions but who makes him a genuine eccentric, more resilient than his own unhappy home life suggests. The young actor never has a false moment. Witnessing Seth and Kimberly find each other — and watching both actors delicately negotiate the tricky lines of an unconventional relationship that slowly blossoms into romance — is balm to the soul.

As for Clarke, her ability to convey teenage nastiness with an innate wit and ability beyond her character’s actual years is profoundly affecting. In “Our Disease,” Kimberly regrets putting the spotlight on her medical condition (“I’m a slide / I’m a chart / I’m a freak on the show”), but Clarke’s way of turning this anomalous character. The show is very moving in every teenage outcast. With her jewel-like soprano, she finds emotional textures in songs you didn’t know existed, breaking your heart while lifting you up at the same time. She gives an unostentatious but quietly magnificent, precious performance.

Venue: Booth Theatre, New York
Cast: Victoria Clarke, Steven Boyer, Ally Mouze, Bonnie Milligan, Justin Cooley, Olivia Elise Hardy, Farnell Hogan, Michael Iskander, Nina White
Book and lyrics: David Lindsay-Abaire, based on his play
Music: Jeanine Tesori
Director: Jessica Stone
Set Designer: David Zinn
Costume Designer: Sarah Loucks
Lighting Designer: Jeanette Oi-Suk Yoo
Sound Designer: Kai Harada
Video Designer: Lucy MacKinnon
Orchestra: John Clancy
Music Direction: Chris Fenwick
Choreographer: Danny Mefford
David Stone, Atlantic Theater Company, James L. Presented by Nederlander, Lachang, John Gore, Patrick Catullo, Aaron Glick

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