Music, dance energize the world premiere of “Karate Kid, the musical” at STAGES | Arts & Culture

Photo by Philippe Hamer

Musical: “The Karate Kid, the musical”

Company: STAGES Saint-Louis

Venue: Kirkwood Performing Arts Center, 210 E. Monroe Ave., Kirkwood

Tickets: $60 to $85; contact 314-821-2407 or

Karate Kid the Musical

Photo by Philippe Hamer

Strong points: STAGES St. Louis opens its 2022 season by serving as the venue for the dynamic and electrifying world premiere of “The Karate Kid, the Musical,” a show based on the hit 1984 non-musical film. Powered by spectacular choreography and a powerful and captivating rock score, “The Karate Kid, the Musical” shines in its pre-Broadway debut.

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Story: In 1984, 17-year-old Danny LaRusso and his widowed mother, Lucille, move from New Jersey to Los Angeles to begin a new chapter in their lives following the death of Danny’s father. They quickly befriend Mr. Miyagi, the kind Okinawan-born caretaker who maintains their apartment complex. Mr. Miyagi welcomes them to his humble apartments, where he shows Danny his prized bonsai tree.

Danny is welcomed to his new high school by classmate Ali, a cheerleader from a wealthy background who recently broke off her relationship with another possessive student named Johnny Lawrence. Johnny resents Ali’s friendship with Danny and bullies him, as evidenced by his shy band of followers.

After being beaten even more severely one night by Johnny and his buddies, Danny is rescued by Mr. Miyagi, who dispatches the attackers with startling karate moves. Danny implores Mr. Miyagi to teach him self-defense with karate, but only after Mr. Miyagi convinces him that karate is as much about the mind and spirit as it is about physical defense.

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Photo by Philippe Hamer

Mr. Miyagi and Danny visit the Cobra Kai dojo, where Johnny and other students are trained by the tough guys Sensei, a former Vietnamese Special Forces veteran named Kreese who believes in not only defeating but also punishing his opponents. When Mr. Miyagi’s overtures for peace between Danny and Johnny’s forces are overruled by Kreese, Mr. Miyagi suggests that Danny attend an upcoming karate tournament. Kreese agrees that Johnny will give up bullying while his student and Danny prepare for the competition.

At first irritated by the menial tasks given to him by his karate mentor, Danny learns to understand the purpose of Mr. Miyagi’s commands to wash and wax cars, paint fences, and other tasks, which emphasize the “muscle memory” for defensive karate moves.

With his mother’s reluctant support and Ali’s friendship, which Danny has to win back after a misunderstanding on his part, Danny enters the tournament. He heeds Mr. Miyagi’s directive to find personal balance and achieve inner peace, regardless of the outcome of the match. But will Kreese and his student, Johnny, fight fair?

Other info: Amon Miyamoto, director of this pre-Broadway presentation, says in his program notes: “The reason I wanted to adapt ‘The Karate Kid’ into a musical is that I thought it was necessary in this divisive time. created by modern politics, the COVID-19 crisis and war.

Miyamoto’s words should resonate with anyone responsible and underline the show’s message of tolerance and acceptance. Miyamoto adds that “the essence of karate [is] acceptance of a different world and a different way of thinking. In karate, there is no first attack… but the elimination of the conflict in the first place.

Jack Lane, executive producer of STAGES St. Louis, is no stranger to Broadway shows, having co-produced “The Prom” and other Broadway hits. His connections helped lure this world premiere for a pre-Broadway run — the first major pre-Broadway musical residency ever in the metro area, according to the STAGES press release.

Robert Mark Kamen, who wrote the original screenplay for “The Karate Kid”, returns 38 years later to contribute to the book of this musical version, which retains the original 1984 setting. Music and lyrics by Drew Gasparini powerfully move forward the story. In truth, the pulsating, driving rock numbers are more satisfying than the ballads, with the latter taking up too much time in Act II, slowing the story down.

Karate Kid the Musical

Photo by Philippe Hamer

Keone and Mari Madrid’s choreography underscores the galvanic effect of Gasparini’s music with a series of electrifying, explosive numbers that dazzle the senses from the expansive stage of the 530-seat Ross Family Theater at the Kirkwood Performing Arts Center. The number introducing the Cobra Kai studio is particularly energizing with its precision dancing.

The technical aspects of the production are all top-notch, including Derek McLane’s eye-catching stage design, which contrasts the simple apartments of the LaRussos and Mr. Miyagi with the sleek Cobra Kai studio and a swanky restaurant. Kudos also to the unlisted props manager for the two cool vintage cars on display in Mr. Miyagi’s garage.

Bradley King’s lighting design dramatically illuminates the set, and Ayako Maeda’s costumes not only reflect the early ’80s era, but also the crisp karate uniforms. Peter Nigrini’s sizzling projection design further complements the setting, as does Kai Harada’s sound design.

Bandleader Andrew Resnick leads an accomplished orchestra of musicians, with Kelly Thomas joining him on keyboards. Ben Butler, Travis Mattison and Shaun Robinson on guitar also contribute to the solid musical accompaniment; JD Tolman on reeds; Bryan Foote on trumpet and flugelhorn; Evan Palmer on trombone and bass trombone; Abbie Steiling on violin and viola; Ranya Iqbal on cello; and Alerica Anderson on bass.

Karate Kid the Musical

Photo by Philippe Hamer

Jovanni Sy leads the excellent cast with a winning portrayal of Mr. Miyagi. Si conveys the humor as well as the warmth and dedication of Mr. Miyagi, who has his own tragedies in his past, including the confinement of his family in a World War II internment camp. When Danny asks in disbelief, “Where do these cars come from?” Miyagi simply replies, “Detroit.”

John Cardoza does well as Danny, portraying the boy’s decent nature, as well as his desire to deal with his own problems, but with invaluable tutoring from his new friend, Mr. Miyagi. Cardoza and Sy build a believable and touching relationship in their performances.

Kate Baldwin brings motherly love as well as the determination to start life over as Lucille LaRusso, and Jetta Juriansz shows Ali’s poise and polish. Alan H. Green is suitably naughty as the menacing and resentful karate sensei Kreese and Jake Bentley Young as Johnny skillfully conveys both the boy’s bullying and its best emergent nature.

“The Karate Kid, the Musical” has a good story, if not the most original. Kamen does a solid job creating believable characters in a situation based on his own experiences. Miyamoto’s meticulous directing admirably guides the characters and the action.

You can catch STAGES’ “The Karate Kid, the Musical” through June 26 and be among the first to catch a show its producers hope will be bound for Broadway, possibly in 2023. In the meantime, the creatives behind the production will nurture and perfect it, much like a beloved bonsai.

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