Broadway Musical Kimberly Akimbo Turns Quirky into Gold


Jack Pasquale

The Echo was lucky enough to meet and interview Justin Cooley, who is starring in Kimberly Akimbo as the main character’s love interest Seth. This is Justin’s Broadway debut after a meteoric rise from Kansas City, where he just graduated high school.


Kimberly Akimbo just opened on Broadway following a successful off Broadway run. The main character, played by Tony Award winning actress Victoria Clark, shares the name of the play, which is an anagram. An anagram is a word, phrase, or name formed by rearranging the letters of another. For example, astronomer turns into moon starrer.  Like an anagram, Kimberly Akimbo is an amazing, wonderful and complex musical, with different meanings and lessons at each twist and turn. Kimberly Akimbo gives us a front seat to the challenges of being a teenager with the added stress of having a disease that ages her faster than everyone else – and has a life expectancy of 16 years old, which Kimberly Akimbo turns in the musical.


What makes the musical wonderful, rather than dark and depressing, are the quirky, funny characters that provide balance and insight as they all deal with their own lives. Rounding out the talented cast is Kimberly’s father, Buddy, played by Tony nominated actor Steven Boyer, is an alcoholic who is constantly making bad decisions. Alli Mauzey stars as Kimberly’s mom, Pattie, who loves complaining and retelling her life’s regrets. Bonnie Milligan is a true gem as Kimberly’s on the run, felon aunt Debra.


We hope you enjoy the below interview with Justin Cooley and highly recommend seeing the Broadway musical Kimberly Akimbo. The songs are catchy and complex like the musical itself. The highly talented cast is wonderful and makes Kimberly Akimo an endearing hit!


  • How did you go from high school in Kansas straight to landing a lead role in the amazing Broadway musical?

I was lucky enough to get a chance in a special yearly event called the Jimmy Awards, the National High School Musical Awards. My senior year I was in a production of Anastasia, as the role of Dmitri, and was a regional winner of an “Outstanding Actor in a Lead Role” award, which then sent me to the Jimmys! There, I got to meet a bunch of other incredible young actors and work with great mentors and perform for judges. I ended up being a finalist there and got a call for a self-tape for Kimberly Akimbo, and the rest in history!


  • How do you stay grounded being in such a high profile role?

It’s crazy to think I’m in a “high profile” role, but I suppose I am. While within the show I do play a leading role, as an artist, I am still quite the beginner. To that end, I don’t usually feel ungrounded, as I’m constantly working towards the long road I know is still ahead. If anything, the glitz and glam of being on Broadway can feel overstimulating, it’s a lot to understand and live up to. But, I’m surrounded by such incredible inspiration and support in my co-stars and creatives, I really feel like I don’t have to carry too much weight, and am able to just look to them for guidance and education any time I need to. I suppose I’m able to stay grounded by keeping my head in the work above all other things, and just focus on what we’re creating, and that there’s still so much more to explore waiting for me within this role and beyond.


  • How long have you been acting?

5 years about, I was in my first production in the ensemble of Hairspray my freshman year of high school. I started taking more seriously the years following so I think I really started 4 years ago.


  • The cast of Kimberly Akimbo is incredibly talented, led by Tony Award winner Victoria Clark. Do they help mentor you?

They do indeed!! In so many ways, often without them even knowing. In the rehearsal room, I would often stand by and watch the rehearsal of scenes I wasn’t even a part of. Having such a small and concentrated yet diverse cast of ages and styles gave me so much to think about try out in my own process. I attribute a good part of my artistic growth to them. Personally, I’ve gotten so much support from castmates, just talking about their histories, process and perspectives and they’ve helped me process how I’m dealing with being in a new world. They also have so many tips and tricks from years of being in the trade, so many throat remedies and life hacks have helped me get through the fast paced life of a Broadway actor! 


  • What is your favorite scene from Kimberly Akimbo?

The anagram scene, our first scene of real intimate interaction between Kimberly and Seth in the library, has really grown on me. As actors, we both just get to be wonderfully dorky, and experience the sense of something beautiful and new and confusing coming to life every night. And within the show it’s just such a tender and important scene for us and for the audience, with an incredible song to back it. Also Bonnie Milligans crashes in at the end and its hilarious!


  • What is your favorite song from Kimberly Akimbo?

“Our Disease” is, I think, such a fun musical venture. It goes through several different styles and characters, all while somehow feeling very authentic to what the underscoring of a day of science presentations would sound like. I think it’s underrated, it goes through twists and turns, it’s super funny, and dramatic, and a little bit sensitive and real. It super fun to do and complicated in a way I think is interesting.


Also “Now”, is probably tied with it, a duet sung by Victoria and I. I think it has such a poignant message and a melody that is so pleasing and inspiring in an otherwise sad scene.


Although, Alli Mauzey’s “Father Time” is my shower karaoke go to so that might be the real winner.


  • What is most challenging for you about playing Seth? 

What was challenging for me as Seth was finding the confidence and comfort in just being authentically weird and straightforward as myself while working in a role. Coming from high school myself recently, and knowing what teenagers are like and playing one, I realized how special of a kid Seth was. Seth doesn’t filter himself much, and doesn’t get caught up in frivolous fears and wishes people, and especially teenagers, tend to let cloud and damper their sense of self. He is abashedly sincere and curious, which I knew was in me, but was a frighteningly vulnerable thing to really just grab hold of and lay out in front of the world. But it’s gotten better and better and taught me a lot along the way.


  • What is the most helpful advice you were ever given and who gave it to you?

In times of frustration and dejection with my work and how it was coming along while in rehearsal, Victoria Clark would often come to me with simple yet comforting words, “You are enough.” I didn’t believe it at first of course, coming here straight out of high school working with professionals and legends I often thought I needed to step it up and be someone else. Be this prodigal, suave, breakthrough artist who just knew what to do and shouldn’t need the extra time and attention to learn everything that was new to me. That is definitely like the furthest thing from who I actually am, but it’s what I thought I had to be. But Victoria would always tell me, with time I would gain the comfort and craft I’m looking for, but for now, trust the team and what they saw in you. The fresh and authentic person you are is exactly what we needed and is perfect for this moment and being yourself is what will bring out the best. And that’s a sentiment I always try to bring forward in my career.


  • What advice would you give to aspiring high school Broadway performers?

Like Victoria Clark said in the previous question. Be yourself, always find a part of you that can be authentically channeled through your art and don’t shy away from it. That’s what people want to see, and that’s what will bring the best craftsmanship out of you. If something isn’t right, it isn’t right for you, and that’s okay. Stay true and work as hard as you can, be a part of anything you can to learn more about this art and field. Everything you learn as an individual is important, embrace it and stay true to your journey.


The Facts: 

Location: Booth Theatre, 222 W 45th St, New York

Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 25 minutes with one intermission.

Ticket Price Range: $94 to $284