There are so many “life lessons” that come from the new musical, “Kimberly Akimbo,” you could compile them in a book.
Instead, let them wash over you as you meet Kimberly, a teenager with a disease that causes her to age rapidly, her puzzle-happy friend Seth, her slightly sketchy Aunt Debra and her parents, who may mean well but don’t actually convey their intentions.
Like “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” this show digs into the quieter moments of life and comes away with a loopy story that doesn’t promise a happy ending.
Victoria Clark plays Kimberly, an awkward girl who has trouble making friends and wrangling her parents. Mom (Alli Mauzey) has had carpal tunnel surgery on both hands and needs Kimberly’s help with just about everything. To compound matters, she’s pregnant. Dad (Steven Boyer) has a drinking problem and a desire to win every bar game he enters. When he comes home with tickets to an amusement park, he fails to see they’re expired.
That leaves the girl adrift. At school, she’s approached about doing a science report on her illness. She resists then realizes Seth (Justin Cooley) is the one who’s asking. He’s a goofy kid who lugs a tuba almost everywhere he goes and works part-time at an ice-skating rink.
There, they meet other, similarly nerdy kids, and have a close encounter with Debra (Bonnie Milligan), a schemer who tries to stay out of the line of fire whenever authorities come calling. She sees what Kimberly needs and isn’t afraid to give it.
In exchange, however, she wants the girl to help her “clean” checks. She enlists the other students (they want money for show choir outfits) and the loopy story ramps up.
Written by David Lindsay-Abaire and Jeanine Tesori, the show’s book and music are about as inventive as Broadway gets. Impossible to predict, they take audiences on a wild ride and give the show’s stars ample opportunity to show their singing and acting ability. Milligan towers – her solo numbers display her incredible range; her one-on-one moments reveal her acting chops.
While Mauzey and Boyer come off as the musical’s villains, they have their moments, too and aren’t as careless as they appear.
Clark and Cooley, however, are the show’s heart and soul. She captures a teenager’s quirks; he reeks innocence and love.
Together, they’re a dandy team, turning in that report (that gets a grade that will surprise you), plotting her “Make-A-Wish” dream and becoming the kind of friends everyone needs.
Directed by Jessica Stone, “Kimberly Akimbo” is as simple as a candy necklace, as complex as check-cleaning operation. When it’s all rolled together, it’s a pitch for something we all seek – unconditional love.