The relationship at the center of the new Broadway musical Kimberly Akimbo, which celebrated opening night at the Booth Theatre November 11, is an unusual one to say the least. The story, adapted from David Lindsay-Abaire’s 2001 play by Lindsay-Abaire and Fun Home Tony-winning composer Jeanine Tesori, centers on Kim and her budding relationship with Seth. She is a bright young teen who, due to a rare aging condition, has the appearance of a 72-year-old; he, her introspective and sweet high school boyfriend.
The pair is played on stage by two actors on opposite ends of their careers—and of their lives. Victoria Clark, a Tony-winning stage veteran who’s previously appeared in 12 Broadway shows, stars as Kim, while Justin Cooley is putting off what should be his sophomore year at Texas Christian University to make his Broadway debut as Seth.
“Vicki has taught me literally everything,” shares Cooley. “She’s helped me navigate a lot of bringing who I am into who Seth is, and not trying to be anyone else but myself.”
“I just love him,” adds Clark. “He’s a very open, generous person, and he’s an old soul living in this young, vibrant body. Sometimes I feel like a beginner in an older body. We balance each other out and we find each other in the middle. I’m 40-plus years older than Justin in Earthling years, but we’re the same age in soul years.”
According to the duo, that friendly affection is the basis of what could be a tricky romantic relationship to play every night live on stage.
“It was always centered in the friendship,” says Cooley. “[The romance] comes from a deeper love and appreciation for each other as people. We actually had to work backwards because from the get-go, we just hit it off and were close. Building the relationship in the show really started from having to find the nervousness and the trepidation around each other.”
Cooley and Clark worked with intimacy coach Dave Ansuelo on the production, particularly the show’s final scene in which the two share a romantic moment in a car. Both say those sessions were incredibly helpful. “The way he talked to us was so delicate and beautiful. It was very serious, the moment,” remembers Clark. According to Cooley, “He didn’t treat it like acting. He treated it like a spiritual moment, a shifting point for us as people and for our characters.”
But for Clark, her character’s journey is a challenging one emotionally—one that mirrors the message of Kimberly Akimbo.
“Sometimes I look over at Justin and I see that face and there’s no lines on it. It’s just a beautiful, young face, and I think, ‘Gosh. It doesn’t seem like that long ago I was that age.’ Life goes by so fast. How preciously fleeting it is. For me, that’s the whole story. We don’t have as much time as we want. Life has limits and we have to live amongst them and make the most out of every moment.”