Regional Reviews: St. Louis
The Karate Kid - The Musical
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 www.stagesstlouis.org.
Cast (in alphabetical order):
Swings: Leah Berry*, Sydney Jones, Josh Hoon Lee, Garrick Goce Macatangay*, Victor Carrillo Tracey
* Denotes Member, Actors Equity Association