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BWW Review: THE KARATE KID THE MUSICAL at STAGES St. Louis At The Ross Family Theater In The Kirkwood Performing Arts Center

Review: THE KARATE KID THE MUSICAL at STAGES St. Louis At The Ross Family Theater In The Kirkwood Performing Arts Center

World Premiere in St. Louis Runs Through June 26, 2022


This is a review that starts with a confession. THE KARATE KID THE MUSICAL is being reviewed by a critic who has never seen the original movie, the sequels, the remakes, or the Netflix series based on the franchise. It is an opinion based solely on the musical adaptation that opened tonight in its world premiere at STAGES St. Louis. Last year, in opening comments during the run of JERSEY BOYS, the creative team at STAGES St. Louis was elated to announce a first ever for the St. Louis theatrical community, the 2022 STAGES St. Louis seasons would open with the pre-Broadway tryout and world premiere of THE KARATE KID THE MUSICAL.

Many recent movie-to-stage adaptations have failed miserably and left many feeling skeptical about the attempt to move this beloved franchise to the Broadway stage as a musical, but every now and then a movie adaptation beats the odds and transitions to the stage effectively. In this production the creative team has melded into a single unit to defy the odds by telling the emotion packed story that generations have come to love in an original production that is both elegant and emotional. This production of THE KARATE KID THE MUSICAL isn't just effective, it is remarkable.

The book for THE KARATE KID THE MUSICAL was written by Robert Mark Kamen who is the screenwriter for The Karate Kid franchise and thirty-four other films including Taps, Fifth Element, the Transporter series, A Walk in the Clouds, Lethal Weapon III, Taken and Taken II. In his first book of a musical Kamen adapts his best known franchise for the stage with ease. Kamen's story translates well and packs a strong emotional punch.

Director Amon Miyamoto leads his cast and creative team in staging a production that is familiar, completely original, and theatrically exciting. The choreography and set design work in tandem to create motion on a stage that's never been seen before. Each member of the cast completely disappears into their roles with performances that are stellar by both experienced veterans and actors making their stage debuts.

Drew Gasparini's score employs various styles of music to express Daniel's angst, tension between good and evil, and Mr. Miyagi's peaceful mentoring . The mood created by his music is complimented by John Clancy's orchestrations and builds a palpable tension throughout the show. His original composition works not only as a musical score but, at times, almost plays like a film's soundtrack.

Keone and Mari Madrid specialize in contemporary street dance that is reminiscent of a blend of hip hop and pop and lock. The style of their choreography lends itself well to martial arts and the Asian themes of The Karate Kid but leaving the description of their movement there oversimplifies the beautiful shapes and strong imagery conveyed by dance in this show. Theater audiences have yet to see this kind of originality in movement that tells the story by conveying the mood of each scene from the serenity of bonsai gardening to the power of martial arts.

The cast is led by John Cardoza as Daniel LaRusso and Jovanni Sy as Mr. Miyagi. Both Cardoza and Sy handle their roles skillfully conveying the father/son relationship that both men long to have. Tony nominee Kate Baldwin plays Daniel's mother Lucille in a role that's been expanded from the movie. Baldwin proves, once again, that she can handle any role with grace. Her vocals are beautiful. Her acting is rich, expressing maternal care and emotion. Alan H. Green as John Kreese and Jake Bentley Young as Johnny bring raw power to their roles. These two men and have the best numbers in the show as part of Cobra Kai. Young and the entire ensemble handle the Madrids' choreography with power, precision and elegance.

Derek McLane follows up his Tony winning set design for Moulin Rouge with another spectacular and luminous set using moving Japanese Shoji screens to transition seamlessly from scene to scene. You know instantaneously, upon walking in the theater, that his set design dramatic but the way it becomes part of the narrative is unexpected. Bradley King's lighting design masterfully uses the Shoji screens to set mood for each of the scenes. This is a piece of theater where the entire creative team have come together to tell a story, not just using actors and a book, but by maximizing every element of technical theater making THE KARATE KID THE MUSICAL a visual feast.

This production is a multi-sensory experience that tells a well-known coming of age story in a medium that the franchise had yet to conquer. Fans of the original movie will appreciate the consist approach to the source material. Musical theater fans will appreciate the impressive production qualities that make this musical adaptation really sing. This production is a knockout for director Amon Miyamoto. His vision and leadership have created a stunning production that will surprise audiences. THE KARATE KID THE MUSICAL will join other successful movie adaptations that have succeeded by telling an emotional story that resonates with audiences coupled with original production qualities that will amaze and satisfy theater goers.

THE KARATE KID THE MUSICAL runs through June 26, 2022 at STAGES ST. Louis. Performances are held at the Kirkwood Performing Arts Center in the Ross Family Theater.

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