By Harry Forbes
I didn’t catch the 2003 Manhattan Theater Club production of David Lindsay-Abaire’s play, but the musical he and composer Jeanine Tesori have fashioned from it is a winner, and is being accorded a beautiful production at the Atlantic Theater Company under the direction of Jessica Stone (choreography by Danny Mefford).
The unusual narrative tells of 16-year-old Kimberly who has a rare genetic disorder that makes her age four or five times faster than normal, with an attendant shortened life span. Though she looks far older, she’s still just a teenager, and that aspect is played most convincingly by the great Victoria Clark.
Kim is the rational center of a dysfunctional family including an alcoholic father Buddy (Steven Boyer), a dreamy, hypochondriac mother Pattie (Alli Mauzey), pregnant and fearful of another genetically challenged child, and a felonious aunt Debra (show-stopping dynamo Bonnie Milligan). The setting is “somewhere in Bergen County, NJ,” and we learn the family had to leave their last residence after an incident not revealed till the second act. Both Boyer and Mauzey do fine work with their multifaceted characters.
Kim’s nerdy, anagram-loving, tuba-playing pal Seth (standout Justin Cooley) loves her but is sensitive enough not to force himself on her. Their four classmates, characters not in the original play, provide added texture and comic relief, and they are appealingly played by Olivia Elease Hardy, Fernell Hogan II, Nina White, and Michael Iskander.
An amusing subplot involves ex-con Debra recruiting the kids for an elaborate check-forging scheme, luring them with the idea they’ll be able to earn the needed money for flashy costumes for their glee club.
Meanwhile, the class is involved in a science project with each team of two asked to research and explain a disease of their choice. Kim plans to do glaucoma, but her project partner Seth persuades Kim to take on her progeria-like condition, a decision that leads to an emotional crisis for Kim.
The material is sensitively handled all around. There are no villains here, and even Kim’s dodgy family eventually shows its better side. The unspoken love between Seth and Kim is presented with utmost delicacy so there’s nothing to make an audience squirm given the real-life age difference between Clark and Cooley.
David Zinn’s simple sets effectively encompass everything from the ice-skating rink, to the family’s living room, to the school library, all astutely lit by Lap Chi Chu. Sarah Laux’s costumes are spot on for both the characters and 1999 setting.
The score is another feather in the versatile Tesori’s cap, unfailingly tuneful and running an impressive gamut of styles. Lindsay-Abaire, with whom she collaborated on Broadway’s “Shrek” musical, has supplied the astute, above-average lyrics. “Getting older is my affliction, getting older is your cure,” sings Kim at one point.
Music Director Chris Fenwick leads a seven piece ensemble through John Clancy and Macy Schmidt’s excellent orchestrations.
Though Kim’s mortality issues are never glossed over, the show still concludes on a joyful, affirmative note.
(Linda Gross Theater, 336 West 20th Street; atlantictheater.org or 866-811-4111; through January 15)
Photos by Ahron R. Foster:
Top: (l-r) Victoria Clark (Kimberly) and Justin Cooley (Seth)
Bottom: (l-r) Bonnie Milligan (Debra), Olivia Elease Hardy (Delia), Fernell Hogan II (Martin), Michael Iskander (Aaron), Nina White (Teresa), Victoria Clark (Kimberly), Justin Cooley (Seth), Stephen Boyer (Buddy) and Alli Mauzey (Pattie)
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