Karate Kid Fans! Did You Know There’s a New Karate Kid Musical in St. Louis?
I. AM. OBSESSED. Well, with the original The Karate Kid. I was an 80s kid and The Karate Kid, which hit movie theatres in 1984, was my generation's definitive movie about standing up to high school bullies. The Karate Kid was one of the decade's defining underdog stories. It inspired a whole generation of kids to try a crane kick.
Now, The Karate Kid is getting an entire new legion of fans because of the immensely popular Netflix series, Cobra Kai. By the way, this 50-year-old is STILL. OBSESSED. I can't wait for Season 5 to drop in September.
Now there's a truly unique way to relive the magic and glory of the original movie. Stages St. Louis is home to the world premiere, pre-Broadway tryout of The Karate Kid: The Musical and I had front row tickets for Sunday night's performance.
The musical is a "new" take on a 40-year-old Hollywood and pop culture classic. That's why the musical has immediate box office appeal (Sunday's show as sold out) and also why it will ultimately fail to please truly faithful fans.
Before I "sand the floor", let me "wax on" about the highlights of the show.
The cast is led by John Cardoza,
Cardoza stars as Daniel LaRusso (a.k.a. The Karate Kid). Cardoza, who was featured in the original Broadway cast of Jagged Little Pill (saw it, loved it), lets his voice fly in the show and embodies those classic images of Daniel trying to learn, absorb and inhabit Mr. Miyagi's brand of karate. It's uncanny really how many times Cardoza conjures the physical spirit of Ralph Macchio.
Kate Baldwin, who is fresh off playing another single mom in 2ST's Superhero (saw it, liked it), is Daniel's mom (Lucille) and Baldwin does what she basically has the patent on these days.
She is the mom everyone wants. She's compassionate, encouraging and, well, that singing voice is flawless!
Alan H. Green (Broadway's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, School of Rock, Sister Act and more) stars as Cobra Kai's sensei John Kreese. Green's on the left in the photo below.
If you haven't heard it before, let me tell you this about Green's singing voice. It's a force of nature and powers through the Kirkwood Performing Arts Center on the show's best song, "Strike First, Strike Hard, No Mercy." And, another note. His voice soared even despite the fact that Green was wearing a mask during the performance I attended. The Karate Kid: The Musical sports eighteen musical numbers. The Kreese and Cobra Kai battle cry was the only one that, for me, landed an All Valley Karate Championship punch.
My main issue with The Karate Kid: The Musical is that, in its attempt to offer a new take on the classic story, it's dismissive of some of the original film's iconic scenes. There are multiple examples of this, but there's one in particular that's sticking with me a day after seeing the show.
The real turning point in the original The Karate Kid movie is the scene following the Halloween costume party. Daniel, after shedding his "shower" costume, gets absolutely pummeled by Johnny and the Cobra Kai against the backdrop of a chain link fence.
That scene is so pivotal in this story for a couple of reasons. That's first time that we really witness the brutality of the "No Mercy" brand of the Cobra Kai and it's the moment in the film when we understand that there's much more to Mr. Miyagi that meets the eye. It's literally the scene that propels Daniel's story toward its conclusion- Daniel's training in Miyagi-Do karate, Mr. Miyagi's face off with John Kreese and laying the groundwork for the ultimate showdown between Daniel and Johnny Lawrence in the finale of the film.
But, in The Karate Kid: The Musical, that scene doesn't carry the same weight. It's staged in much the same way. There are skeleton costumes, a chain link fence and Mr. Miyagi does indeed sweep in for the rescue. However, we don't really get to see him kick some ass. Instead, these random spirits (according to A Note from the Director), who represent fire, water, earth, wood and metal, sweep across the stage and, rather anticlimactically, chase the Cobra Kai into the shadows. There's no ass-kicking at all in what's supposed to be a kick ass moment in this story arc.
If The Karate Kid: The Musical makes it to Broadway (I don't think it stands a chance in this early incarnation), I hope those "spirits" get cut. Quite frankly, they're always up in Mr. Miyagi's grill. Virtually every time Miyagi (played endearingly by Jovanni Sy, by the way) is on stage, the spirits are lurking around him. It's distracting and their existence ultimately steals focus from a man who doesn't really need this additional explanation. We don't need to see Miyagi's mysticism embodied by human "spirits" and those actors and actresses assigned to those roles inadvertently pull our attention away from the show's most important and impactful character.
I also have some issues with the way in which Jake Bentley Young's "Johnny Lawrence" is written and played and I think Ali Mills and her friends, at times, seem like they stumbled out of the musical version of Legally Blonde and ended up in this one instead.
All that said, I am not sorry I made the 3-hour trip to St. Louis to see the show. Like I said, I am a huge fan of The Karate Kid franchise. But this is certainly still a work in progress. I will, however, give some major props to the Kirkwood Performing Arts Center for offering some The Karate Kid-inspired cocktails.
Honestly, I think if I had bought a "wax on" Sweep the Leg, it would have made the show more of a Bonzai Blast.
If you'd like to catch the world premiere of The Karate Kid: The Musical, which runs through June 26th at Stages St. Louis, tickets are available by CLICKING HERE.