From Olathe to Broadway
Justin Cooley graduated from Olathe East High School in 2021. Later that year, he began performing in an off-Broadway production, and this month, he will perform on Broadway!
Justin was awarded Outstanding Actor in a Lead Role in Starlight’s 2021 Blue Star Awards, which recognizes high school performers in the Kansas City area. His win led him to the Jimmy Awards in New York City, which celebrates the best high school musical talent from across the country. In addition to an awards ceremony, students participate in a nine-day professional training program with theatre professionals. Justin was named a finalist and following the awards was cast in the new musical, Kimberly Akimbo.
Kimberly Akimbo is the story of Kim (played by Tony Award winner Victoria Clark) as a bright and funny Jersey teen, who happens to look like a 72-year-old lady due to a rare aging disease. Forced to maneuver family secrets, borderline personalities, and possible felony charges, Kim is determined to find happiness in a world where not even time is on her side. Justin plays Kim’s high school friend and fellow outcast, Seth.
The show opened off-Broadway in December 2021 to rave reviews and was extended due to its popularity with audiences. In early 2022, it was announced that Kimberly Akimbo would begin previews on Broadway later in the year with both Cooley and Clark in their original roles.
Time Out New York called the show “Clever, touching, and idiosyncratic…” and New York Theater Guide said, “Newcomer Cooley has charm to spare.”
Broadway Direct says “…recent high school graduate Justin Cooley gives a poignant performance as Kim’s nerdy high school friend.”
In a recent Zoom chat with Broadway Direct, Justin said, “I love the diversity of generations and experiences and perspectives that this cast brings. Working with Vicki [Clark], who is more than 40 years older than me, I learned so much not only creatively but personally. Our characters are both grasping for anything that can bring them hope and joy. My connection with Vicki is something we felt instantly, and I think that comes across on stage.”
When fellow cast member Alli Mauzey asked Justin what he thought his generation would get from the show, he responded: “I think it speaks to the experience of trying to find your place in the world. Kimberly and Seth are sort of outcasts, but they are unabashedly themselves through the entire musical, and people love that. They choose joy, and that goes hand in hand with finding their place.”
Justin was awarded the Clive Barnes Theatre Artist Award for his performance in the off-Broadway production. He was nominated for the Drama Desk Awards, the Outer Critics Circle Awards, and the Lucille Lortel Awards, as well. The production was awarded the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Musical, among others.
We're excited to hear about Justin’s performance and the show’s opening on Broadway, and we hope to see him in more roles for years to come!