As his star demands too. I wish Clark had a bigger solo in the penultimate scene; at that point we won the right to a major statement from an interpreter capable of delivering it.
As long as we strive for excellence, I will add that “Kimberly Akimbo” is not yet all it could be. The New Jersey setting is clearly and badly characterized, but the era, so-called 1999, is not; the father’s arch is not clearly inscribed; and using high school students to fill songs they don’t otherwise belong seems demotivated. Although sharp in its emotional details, Jessica Stone’s staging, on a vague setting by David Zinn and choreography by Danny Mefford, is physically undernourished. Skating rink scenes might as well take place in an empty mall, for all the action they offer.
But these are really minor complaints about a show getting so many important things so well. “Kimberly Akimbo” is already the rare example of a good play turned into an even better musical. It warms up the craziness of the original without going overboard and makes it “normal”. Instead of curling up as if embarrassed by the dimension music can bring to drama, she embraces the ability of song, even in tragicomedy, to spread emotion into larger realms.
And don’t let its sheer pleasure make you believe this is not a tragicomedy. To see an old man like Clark sparkle with a newcomer like Cooley is to feel how fast the world is spinning ahead. “Nobody gets it a second time,” they sing in the finale (although “Kimberly Akimbo” thankfully did). It could be an old-fashioned ‘carpe diem’ message – or a ‘crazy recipe’, as Seth might say – but in this case, lifted by exceptional craftsmanship, it makes a totally satisfying meal. .
Until January 2 at the Linda Gross Theater, Manhattan; atlantictheater.org. Duration: 2 hours 20 minutes.