The sweetest love scene on a New York stage proper now entails neither Left Financial institution bohemians, Orpheus and Eurydice nor even that freak with the masks. Quite, it’s between a tuba-playing, Elvish-speaking highschool über-nerd and a lady who appears like his grandmother.
That’s as a result of the lady, Kimberly Levaco, born with a genetic getting old dysfunction akin to progeria, seems to be in her 60s though she’s simply turning 16. Within the humorous and transferring new musical “Kimberly Akimbo,” which opened on Wednesday in an Atlantic Theater Firm manufacturing on the Linda Gross Theater, Victoria Clark brings her to life so believably and gorgeously that you end up rooting for a kiss you may in any other case discover creepy.
That’s no shock; Clark, 62, is one in every of our nice singing actors, situating herself precisely the place the 2 unattainable arts intersect. In position after position — notably as an anxious mom in “The Gentle within the Piazza,” for which she gained a Tony Award in 2005 — she makes music not an afterthought to character, however the thought itself.
What is stunning is that “Kimberly Akimbo,” based mostly on the 2000 play of the identical title by David Lindsay-Abaire, manages the same feat. In contrast to variations that do little greater than nail vocal Sheetrock onto naked studs of borrowed story, and have roughly the identical class, this one — with music by Jeanine Tesori and a ebook and lyrics by Lindsay-Abaire — remakes the unique on new phrases, with songs that superbly inform us new issues.
That is completed with out undue violence to the ingenious unique premise, which makes comedy, as all of us should, of tragedy. Kimberly is burdened not solely by a illness for which the common life expectancy is 16 (“It’s simply a median although,” she says brightly) but additionally by a household that has not dealt with it almost in addition to she has.
Her mom, Pattie (Alli Mauzey), is ludicrously hypochondriacal, as if atoning for the chromosomal accident that produced her quick-aging baby. Her father, Buddy (Steven Boyer), is floridly irresponsible, reneging on guarantees and ingesting himself into stupors. Her aunt Debra (Bonnie Milligan) is a cheerful, amoral twister of dangerous concepts who squats within the Levaco basement to additional a check-forging scheme. In a family stuffed with impulsive, appetitive childishness, Kimberly, who has to feed Pattie her morning cereal as a result of each her arms are in casts, is the grownup by default.
It’s that high quality, greater than her look, that makes Kimberly one thing of an outcast in school. The upside is that it attracts her to the über-nerd, Seth, performed in a terrific New York debut by the 18-year-old Justin Cooley. Seth is lots conversant in untimely maturity syndrome: His widowed father barely notices him, leaving him to determine learn how to be a “good child” (as one in every of his songs is titled) on his personal. Recognizing that trait in one another, Seth and Kimberly bond over their parallel irregularities: his obsession with anagrams and her genetically scrambled codons.
Every of those topics produces a splendidly sudden music that forwards the plot whereas deepening the characterizations. Within the first, as Seth struggles to make an anagram of “Kimberly Levaco,” his unusual stabs at options (“My blacker olive! My crablike love!”) type a sort of descant to her rapturous discovery of his “askew” standpoint: “I like the best way you take a look at life and assume outdoors the field,” she sings. “A bit odd. A bit off. A bit unorthodox.”
And when college students current science initiatives on illnesses of their selecting in a hilarious ensemble quantity referred to as “Our Illness,” Kimberly veers from the script she and Seth wrote about hers. Their classmates might have chosen scurvy and fasciolosis, however what they actually endure from is “a foul case of adolescence,” she sings. “Getting older is my affliction. / Getting older is your remedy.”
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These classmates (charmingly performed by Olivia Elease Hardy, Fernell Hogan II, Nina White and Michael Iskander) are the obvious addition to the musical, having been invented to offer social context, a singing ensemble and broader humor. Much less convincingly, Lindsay-Abaire ties them into the story as accomplices in Aunt Debra’s check-forging scheme; they hope to boost sufficient money to purchase spangly costumes for a present choir competitors. Nonetheless, as this enables them to offer backup for Milligan’s barn-burning numbers, I gained’t complain.
That Tesori can write any sort of music is previous information. (For additional proof, see “Caroline, or Change,” now on Broadway.) What’s obvious in “Kimberly Akimbo” is that she will additionally write inerrantly for any sort of present. It may well’t have been simple to search out the proper moments and tone for songs in a double-sided story like this, the place every joke can be a memento mori, and vice versa. (One quantity known as “The Inevitable Flip.”) Its sound world — together with ukulele tunes, shock double-melodies and genial pastiche — most resembles that of the stage musical “Shrek,” one other collaboration with Lindsay-Abaire, but it surely takes its personal inevitable flip, changing into richer and extra craving as the fabric calls for.
As its star calls for, too. I want Clark had an even bigger solo within the penultimate scene; we now have by that point earned the proper to a significant assertion from a performer able to delivering it.
So long as we’re choosing at excellence, I’ll add that “Kimberly Akimbo” isn’t but all it is perhaps. The New Jersey setting is clearly and wickedly characterised however the period, supposedly 1999, will not be; the daddy’s arc will not be sharply inscribed; and the usage of the highschool college students to fill out songs they don’t in any other case belong in feels unmotivated. Although acute in its emotional element, Jessica Stone’s staging, on a obscure set by David Zinn and with choreography by Danny Mefford, is bodily underpowered. Scenes in an ice-skating rink may as properly be set in an empty mall, for all of the motion they ship.
However these are actually minor complaints a few present that will get so many main issues so proper. “Kimberly Akimbo” is already the uncommon instance of a great play that has develop into a good higher musical. It warms up the zaniness of the unique with out overshooting and making it “regular.” As an alternative of cowering as if embarrassed by the dimension music can convey to drama, it embraces the power of music, even in tragicomedy, to increase emotion into larger realms.
And don’t let its pure enjoyability mislead you into considering it’s not a tragicomedy. To see an previous hand like Clark make sparks with a newcomer like Cooley is to really feel how shortly the world spins ahead. “Nobody will get a second time round,” they sing within the finale (although “Kimberly Akimbo” luckily did). It could be an old-style “carpe diem” message — or a “mad recipe,” as Seth might need it — however on this case, leavened by distinctive craft, it makes a very satisfying meal.
By Jan. 2 on the Linda Gross Theater, Manhattan; atlantictheater.org. Operating time: 2 hours 20 minutes.