Everything New Is Old Again: Our Critics Review Kimberly Akimbo (for Parterre Box)

DAVID FOX: Cameron, for the last two-plus weeks, even as the season continues, cautiously, to bloom, we—along with many others in the theater community—are still remembering Stephen Sondheim. Though his death on November 26th was unexpected, I’m struck by the almost magically poignant timeline. A revival of Assassins had opened at Classic Stage Company only days before (Sondheim had attended); and very shortly after, the revised Company premiered on Broadway. We weighed in on the latter here, and I won’t add to it, except to say that these bookend events now seem to me to celebrate that Sondheim remains vibrantly in our present. I felt that even more powerfully as we sat in the Atlantic’s Linda Gross Theater, watching Kimberly Akimbo, a new chamber musical by composer Jeanine Tesori with book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire. Like so many other contemporary musical writers, Tesori worked with Sondheim on various projects, and learned from him; she wrote very movingly about it in American Theatre Magazine. Her compositional style (really, I should say “styles” plural—she has mastered many) isn’t to my ear particularly similar to his—yet I see in Kimberly an audacious idea, once unthinkable territory for a musical, which is realized through a highly imaginative and often unpredictable use of song and especially open-ended ensemble writing. All of this is very much a door that Sondheim’s work opened in an everlasting gift to this art form. I should say at the start that I was not ultimately as swept away by Kimberly as I wanted to be, though there are some marvelous moments and superb performances. But I was frequently very emotional watching it, thinking about all of the above.

CAMERON KELSALL: Tesori and Lindsay-Abaire attempt to thread the same needle that Sondheim looped many times. The subject is at once melancholy and vivacious, with a healthy dose of absurd humor underscoring some very heavy issues at the center. The title Kimberly is Kimberly LeVaco, a 16-year-old girl from New Jersey who seems to have many of the problems shared by her cohort—finding friends, navigating crushes and dealing with her overbearing, often clueless parents. But since Kimberly is played by Victoria Clark, the 62-year-old star of The Light in the Piazza and Sondheim’s Follies, you can imagine something isn’t quite right. This isn’t a case of questionable casting, a la Ben Platt in the recent Dear Evan Hansen movie; the choice of actor is very much deliberate. Kimberly suffers from a genetic condition that causes her body to age rapidly, thus almost certainly shortening her life expectancy—when we meet her, she’s both preparing for graduation and entering her twilight years. The delicate balance between deft adolescent comedy and the dark undercurrent of impending premature death does feel particularly Sondheimian, but often I felt that Tesori and Lindsay-Abaire defaulted to a maudlin cheeriness when matters really could’ve used some edge…

Click here to read the full review at Parterre Box.

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