Amid a stacked fall season on Broadway, “Kimberly Akimbo” has emerged as an early Best Musical frontrunner for next spring’s Tony Awards. The new show from Jeanine Tesori and David Lindsay-Abaire oozes heart and charm, and earned unanimous critical praise when it opened on November 10. If star Victoria Clark can leverage the musical’s success into a Tony win in June, she will join an elite group of Tony-winning women.
Clark portrays the titular Kimberly, a young girl from New Jersey about to celebrate her 16th birthday. Only Kimberly isn’t quite so young on the outside. She has an incredibly rare disorder, similar to progeria, which causes her body to age at four times the normal rate. The average lifespan for folks with her disease is 16, giving Kimberly an acute awareness of her own mortality and a desire to experience all the joys and wonders of life in whatever time she has left.
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In her heartwarming performance, Clark (who is 63 in real life), plays the teenage Kimberly without ever commenting on the age difference. There is no hamming up mannerisms or behavior to “play at” being a kid. Instead, the actress submerges herself in a youthful energy and perspective. That optimistic perspective is challenged throughout the story, whether it be via disappointments from her parents or from limitations imposed by her disease. It’s in these moments where Clark has the audience eating out of the palm of her hand: the show skillfully allows us to feel an emotional gut punch one moment, but has us howling with laughter the next as Kimberly makes a joke and moves on.
Of course, Clark is also gifted with plenty of songs to showcase the technical proficiency and emotional richness of her voice. She has just as much precise control over her instrument now as when she won the Lead Actress in a Musical Tony for “The Light in the Piazza” back in 2005.
“Piazza” marked Clark’s first Tony nomination, and so far her only win. She received subsequent nominations for her performances in “Sister Act,” “Cinderella,” and “Gigi.”
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If Clark can win Lead Actress in a Musical for a second time, she will be just the 12th person to land multiple victories in this category. Angela Lansbury is the reigning queen of this race, with four wins (“Mame,” “Gypsy,” “Dear World,” and “Sweeney Todd”). Right behind her with three wins each are Mary Martin (“South Pacific,” “Peter Pan,” and “The Sound of Music”) and Gwen Verdon (“Damn Yankees,” “New Girl in Town,” and “Redhead”). Then there are eight actresses who all have two lead actress wins each: Lauren Bacall, Christine Ebersole, Sutton Foster, Patti LuPone, Liza Minnelli, Donna Murphy, Bernadette Peters, and Chita Rivera.
Even though Clark has already picked up Lucille Lortel and Outer Critics Circle Awards for the Off-Broadway run of “Kimberly Akimbo,” winning a second Tony won’t be an easy feat. The fall has already featured formidable leading performances from Sara Bareilles and Patina Miller in “Into the Woods.” And there are plenty of unseen contenders like Annaleigh Ashford (“Sweeney Todd”), Lorna Courtney (“& Juliet”), Linedy Genao (“Bad Cinderella”), Adrianna Hicks (“Some Like it Hot”), and Philippa Soo (“Camelot”). Plus, there’s a few performers, like Crystal Lucas-Perry (“1776”), Luna (“KPOP”) and Solea Pfeiffer (“Almost Famous”), who could wind up in either lead or featured depending on eligibility rulings by the Tony Awards Administration. Still, as I watched audience members who looked up at Clark in the finale of “Kimberly Akimbo” both with tears of joy and smiles beaming across their faces, it’s hard not to imagine her joining that exclusive club of legendary leading ladies.
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