Victoria Clark and Jessica Stone met in 1996 when they were both performing on Broadway in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying – Clark had originated the revival role of Smitty and Stone replaced Megan Mullally as Rosemary. The friendship would prove lasting and fruitful.
Twenty-seven years later, the pair are nominated for a Tony Award, Clark for their portrayal of the title character in Kimberly Akimbo, and Stone for directing it. The musical, with music by Jeanine Tesori and book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire, has been acclaimed by critics and audiences since its Off-Broadway opening two years ago, and its transfer to Broadway last October was no less than the New York theater talking point. .
The premise is as improbable as it is captivating. Based on Lindsay-Abaire’s 2001 non-musical play of the same name, Kimberly Akimbo tells the story of, as the show’s official synopsis states, “a bright and funny teenager from Jersey who looks like a 72-year-old woman. And yet, her aging condition may be the least of her problems. Forced to handle family secrets, borderline personalities, and potential felony charges, Kim is determined to find happiness in a world where not even time is on her side.
At 63 years old, Clark is one of the most lauded music artists around. He won a Tony in 2005 for his role in the musical The light in the squareand only his Broadway credits include Titanic, Cabaret, Urinetown, Sisger Act, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella, The Snow Geese and Gigi.
Stone is no stranger to Broadway, either: As an actress, she has appeared in Anything goes, Butley, The Odd Couple, The Smell of Carnage, Design for Living and Fat. She has been directing for the theater since 2010, but Kimberly Akimbo marks his Broadway debut in that capacity.
With eight Tony Award nominations, Kimberly Akimbo It’s the happy culmination of a friendship and more than a little risk. In this conversation with Deadline, Clark and Stone discuss their journey to one of the most surprising and joyous musicals to hit Broadway in years.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
DEADLINE: victory tell me how kimberley came into your life I know you had some reservations.
VICTORIA CLARK: I did, because it was like asking Tom Brady if he wanted to quarterback eight games a week for 52 weeks. I’ve been so blessed in my life and my career, and this is the most important part I’ve ever played. So you have to pause when someone gives you such a great script, and you see what the contract is and what the commitment is. You have to think because you know that you are going to sacrifice many other things in your life to be able to do it.
And I knew that I wanted to alter my soprano lyrics for this part. She knew that she wanted to sing it very well and beautifully, but she also knew that she couldn’t sound like an old lady. That involved a lot of technique, practice and skill. It’s not a part you can just get out of bed and do.
DEADLINE: One of the things that captivates people so much when they watch this show is that your performance feels so timeless. You don’t do what so many actors playing children do, which is exaggerate the childishness. Maybe your voice is the key to that?
CLARK: I think it must be part of that. The voice does not lie. That’s something I learned as a voice nerd, and also as a voice teacher, and I’m also a director. When you look at someone’s face, you see the lines, the laugh lines and the worry lines, and you can see the map of a person’s life. I think that also applies to our voices: they don’t really know how to lie. You can’t fundamentally change your sound, because then you’re lying, but in a way, you have to extract the beams and elements of the voice that speak to whatever character you’re playing, and allow them to take center stage. scenery. And that’s something I’ve worked very, very hard on: what are the elements of my own speaking and singing voice that have Kim in them, and then letting them lead.
DEADLINE: Jessica, you came to kimberley Around the same time as Vicky, yes?
JESSICA STONE: I was with it for a little while before her. David Lindsay-Abaire and I started talking about it, I think it was in 2018, and we were meeting at a play I was directing in Boston, and I wanted to do the right thing with him, because he’s a Boston kid. So we had coffee to get to know each other about that play, and we hit it off like a house on fire, and he mentioned that he was adapting his play. Kimberly Akimbo in a musical, and I just gasped, and I was like, oh my gosh, that’s a great idea, I never really imagined myself connecting to it.
I was so excited for him, and then I was asked to do a lab at Sundance, and I wasn’t available that summer. He was directing something else, but then he came back, maybe the following fall. So we’ve been at it for a while. And Vicky and I have known each other for a long time, and we all started talking about the possibility of Vicky doing it, and we wondered if she would do it, and I just remember, and I can let Vicky speak for herself, that she was scared about whether or not it was the right thing for her. So he met with Jeanine separately, and then she and David Lindsay-Abaire and I got together to read stuff, sing stuff and talk about it, and that was right before the pandemic. I think just, like, bumped elbows.
CLARK: Yeah, I think we bumped elbows. It was the week before everything shut down.
STONE: So that was the trajectory. Once things started to open up again, it was my great pleasure to start talking seriously with Vicky and start thinking about Kim and the world. The lucky part for anyone who is working with Vicky is that she is so emotionally savvy and has such access to so many different facets of being a human being that the collaboration is very, very fertile and full of imagination and laughter, and she is very , very valiant.
DEADLINE: Did any of you have any concerns about the whole concept of how to convey to a teenager without actually being a teenager?
CLARK: One of the things I’ve learned directing college kids, who have to play all the characters, young and old, is that as I always tell them, we’ll believe it if you believe it. And that was my mantra [with Kimberly]. I told myself over and over again, ‘Vicky, if you think you’re a teenager, that’s all that matters.’
And Jess would say, ‘We’ve got the first five or six minutes for them to suspend disbelief, and then we’re either in or we’re out.’
STONE: Vicky has a way of completely fulfilling the needs, as an actor, of being the gatekeeper to the character and being able to go out and look at things from a broader perspective, which is very helpful.
As far as getting closer to the adolescent part, I think we’re all pretty much what we were when we were five, 12, and 16. Our bodies are a little more sagging, but I think we all have access to that same person. in those years. So to us, we’re saying that you’re a 16-year-old who looks different on any given day. There were times where Vicky and I would argue, like, okay, right now she’s reading like Kim is too young, like she’s five, or now we’re in the land of, like, too surly teenager, so let’s find out. where is. more hopeful, who can sometimes read even younger. We were constantly adjusting the dial because that’s a really fun period in life. When you’re a teenager, you’re a little kid and you’re an adult, you know?
CLARK: In fact, that’s one of the great gifts of Jesus, that he can say, very directly but kindly, this is the tone we need to be in. This piece is incredibly complicated in terms of pitch. One minute, it’s, like, knee-kicking, aisle-rolling hilarious, and then the next minute, you know, it stabs you in the gut. So, you have to wonder how a vision can encompass both hilarity, and the top of the roller coaster, and then it flies off into the depths.
I also want to say very quickly, for me, it wasn’t… yeah, it was fear and a little bit of anxiety, but mostly it was fear of being exposed, right? Like walking in front of an audience with no clothes on, that kind of raw exposure. I don’t have stage fright. We are not talking about that kind of fear. It’s more about whether people will believe me and what it will feel like if they don’t. And Jess was like, well, fuck them, you know? Like, do what you do and let’s find out. Let’s not worry about what ifs. My grandmother always said, there’s only one direction, and that’s forward, and I feel like that’s a lot of Jess.
STONE: It’s like being in this scene, right now, and playing what has to happen. Think about what needs to happen right now, right now, and we’ll move on to the next scene in a minute.
DEADLINE: What do you think the Tony Award nominations mean for the series? And what were her thoughts when she found out that the Tonys might be cancelled?
STONE:The economy right now on Broadway is still really tough, post-pandemic, so all the love and attention every show on Broadway can get is helpful and feels great. We work very, very hard, and it feels great to have people pat us on the back. Because it is not always like that, for a thousand reasons, some justified, others not.
CLARK: I agree. I mean, I’m also incredibly proud of you, Jess. This is your Broadway debut and you just got out. You’re not a kid, you’ve had a full career as a professional actor, and now, kind of starting over, and now you’re an established director in your Broadway debut, you’re nominated. I mean, it just doesn’t often happen that way, especially for women. I mean, seriously, the number of women who have directed musicals on Broadway is very small. And the number of those women who have been recognized is much smaller. So this is a huge accomplishment for Jess, and she supports her as her friend and her colleague, and someone who knows how hard it is to make a name for yourself in this business.
DEADLINE: Do any of you know what he’s doing on Tony’s night, in terms of what’s going to be performed?
CLARK: It may be a secret.
STONE: It’s a secret. It’s a secret. And you know, it’s been a bit of a challenge to figure out the best way to not only better represent ourselves, but better represent ourselves with a musical number when we’re not really capable of writing. [an introduction] and give context for a number. And we are a very different show from a traditional flashy Broadway musical, or what is normally considered a Broadway musical. I think we’re a beautiful program, I love our program, but it’s been an interesting and fun puzzle to solve in terms of how to do our best.
CLARK: Yeah, our show is about working class New Jersey, about people who are a bit of a misfit, and they’re all just trying to make their way in the world. So we’re not a dazzling show. We are a beautiful show. We are a deep show. Our show is about character, relationships and life.
STONE: and joy. But it’s complex, you know? It might seem tricky – you think, a show about a girl who has this fictional condition, and we’re dealing with mortality – but the things we’re really talking about and singing about are life, and how you choose to live it.
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