Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: St. Louis

The Karate Kid - The Musical
Stages St. Louis

Review by Richard T. Green

Alan H. Green and Cast
Photo by DTK Studios
I see you out there, rolling your eyes. But it's really not that horrible, The Karate Kid - The Musical, now having its world premiere at Stages St. Louis, and boldly promised for Broadway. There are plenty of admirable moments of spiritual elegance, in apposition to scenes of comical pop culture from the mid-1980s. So why not just cheerfully add it to the cart of the musical theater pantheon? Mainly because, at the moment, the songs are tedious and vague. But you know the motto at Stages: "We got all this money, so let's put on a show!"

Drew Gasparini (Crazy, Just Like Me, Make Me Bad, and most famously, as composer for Skittles Commercial: The Broadway Musical) provides words and music that occasionally rise to the quality level of a sitcom theme song. These are then infused with a 1980s synthesizer sound that sadly heightens a feeling of falsity. The script adaptation from film to stage was written by Robert Mark, who also wrote the original 38-year-old screenplay, which inspired many a spin-off property. John Cardoza, as Daniel (bullied and eager to learn karate), looks almost too grown up to play a 17 year-old. But he's a fine singer, has a remarkable eye and ear for characterization, and adds welcome vocal flourishes to his numbers. He easily puts himself into the role made famous by Ralph Macchio in the 1984 film, the year in which the stage musical also is set.

The acting rings true across the board, thanks to director Amon Miyamoto. Jovanni Sy is excellent as Mr. Miyagi, the apartment superintendent, often accompanied by an invisible (to the others) army of ninja-like dancers, nicely suggesting a spiritual karate team backing him up. Mr. Sy has several first-rate scenes in which Mr. Miyagi tries to break our hero of a young man's brash petulance, long before any karate can be taught. But, as theater, his invisible ninjas lack consistent coordination in their hand movement in particular, under the otherwise good choreography of Keone and Mari Madrid. Fortunately, there's also dramatic fight choreography by dance captain Isidro Rafael.

Very modern computerized lighting by Bradley King regularly heightens the stage pictures, and the atmospheric flats and rolling units by Derek McLane allow for surprisingly fluid set changes. That's the most "Broadway" thing about this show, at the moment: it absolutely does not stop for the set changes, even when a Pac-Man arcade game tumbles down on top of a brave young actor lugging the large set piece offstage right, as happened on opening night.

Jetta Juriansz is strong as Ali, Daniel's love interest who has somehow (before curtain-up) found her independence and gotten out of a bad relationship. Seems like there should be a song about that, but nobody ever stops to sing about anything of any specific interest to their own characters here, because Sondheim's dead, I suppose. Jake Bentley Young is quite good as Ali's ex, the tormented teen bully. Kate Baldwin finds admirable realism in the role of Daniel's mother, with Luis-Pablo Garcia featured as an energetic and convincing sidekick, excited to soon be hearing from a college admissions office.

Alan H. Green plays an evil karate teacher, the most heavily embellished character in the play. He's excellent as the tormented Vietnam war vet and martial arts guru and drew cheers from the audience over and over again at the performance I attended, in a subplot that seems too dark for the overall candy-colored tone of the show: training up a band of ruthless suburban brats. (The fictional "Cobra Kai" karate school has its own Facebook fan page with over nine thousand members.) Here, without any added scenes, the audience was already thrilled by a tyrant. They say democracy always loses, in the annals of history, to fascism. Who knew it'd sneak in through the stage door of a musical?

And maybe that's what this show should be about, the fight against authoritarianism, on some added level. You could easily lose half the songs in it now, to make some room.

The Karate Kid - The Musical runs through June 26, 2022 at the Ross Family Theatre at the Kirkwood Performing Arts Center, 210 E. Monroe, Kirkwood MO. For more information visit

Cast (in alphabetical order):
Lucille LaRusso: Kate Baldwin*
Daniel LaRusso: John Cardoza*
Freddie Fernandez: Luis-Pablo Garcia*
John Kreese: Alan H. Green*
Ali Mills: Jetta Juriansz*
Kiyoko: Abby Matsusaka
Mr. Miyagi: Jovanni Sy*
Johnny Lawrence: Jake Bentley Young*
Ensemble: Manik Anand, Caitlyn Caughell*, Kristina Garvida Doucette, Zachary Downer*
Francis Florendo, Trevor James*, Kayla Jenerson*, Noah Lentini*, Kelly MacMillan*, Abby Matsusaka*, Justice D. Moore*, Omar Nieves*, Jackson Kanawha Perry, Isidro Rafael*, Sangeetha Santhebennur*

Swings: Leah Berry*, Sydney Jones, Josh Hoon Lee, Garrick Goce Macatangay*, Victor Carrillo Tracey

Production Staff:
Director: Amon Miyamoto
Choreographers: Keone & Mari Madrid
Scenic Designer: Derek McLane
Lighting Designer: Bradley King
Production Design: Peter Nigrini
Orchestrations: John Clancy
Arrangements and Music Director: Andrew Resnick
Costume Design: Ayako Maeda
Production Stage Manager: Richard Hester*
Associate Choreographer: Vinh Nguyen
Associate Director: Michael Mastro
Company Manager: Jordan Black
Artistic Coordinator: Alicia Scott-Aune
Casting: Tara Rubin Casting, Xavier Rubiano, CSA
Wig & Hair Design: Dennis Milam Bensie
Sound Designer: Kai Harada

* Denotes Member, Actors Equity Association