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‘The Karate Kid: The Musical’ plans to go from Kirkwood to Broadway

The Karate Kid: The Musical

When a show opens on Broadway, it's most likely already had a tryout in a smaller market — say, Boston or Toronto. Typically not St. Louis. But this month, “The Karate Kid: The Musical,” could help make St. Louis a destination for pre-Broadway premieres.

“The Karate Kid: The Musical” makes its worldwide debut at the Kirkwood Performing Arts Center from June 1 to June 26. The adaptation of the smash hit 1984 film offers a chance for St. Louis audiences to weigh in and help perfect the show to prepare it for a national debut.

For four decades, “The Karate Kid” has captured kids’ imaginations and even inspired a renaissance for the sport in America. Original screenwriter Robert Mark Kamen credited its fictional karate teacher as the timeless magnet that keeps pulling audiences in.

“Mr. Miyagi is the father we all want,” Kaman said. “He's all-wise. He doesn't judge. He's kind. He's gentle. He's funny. He's smart and he can beat the crap out of anybody who bothers you. I mean, who wouldn’t want that as a parent?”

‘The Karate Kid: The Musical’ debuts in St. Louis

After two TV spinoffs, five sequels and 56 years of karate under his belt, Kamen decided to reinvent “The Karate Kid” yet again — this time in musical form.

Originally, Kamen explained on Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air, he had little interest in a Broadway show, but the process sold him on musicals. Kaman called the musical production an “awakening.”

“You get to peel away the layers of the onion and see beneath the surface of characters,” he said. “You don't use the tool of the camera to discover a character, you use the tool of the song.”

Composer and lyricist Drew Gasparini gave each character their own unique sound, whether it’s ‘80s pop, heavy metal or traditional Japanese music.

“What we're really doing is taking the story that has been so beloved for the last 40 years and just enhancing, going deeper into what these characters are thinking,” he said. “That's what a musical does. It really keeps tapping in deeper and deeper. It's not these close-ups on a movie screen getting the emotion across, it is the songs where they're pouring their souls out onto the stage that are getting the emotion across.”

Gasperini said songs in “The Karate Kid” maintain the film’s original underdog spirit.

“I think everybody in the world can connect with feeling like an outcast,” Gasperini said. “And that's really what the centerpiece of the show is about.”

Characters who were blips in the movie — including love interest Ali and Daniel LaRusso’s mom — play larger roles onstage. And Kaman said classic, pithy quotes including “wax on, wax off” have earned a spot on the soundtrack.

To prepare for the show, Kaman went to 25 musicals over the past three years. He promises the choreography in “The Karate Kid: The Musical” is wholly unique.

“I'm not an expert, but I know it when I see it,” Kaman said, “and I haven't seen this before.”

Related Event

What: The Karate Kid: The Musical

When: Through June 26

Where: Kirkwood Performing Arts Center, 210 E. Monroe Ave., Kirkwood, MO 63122

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Emily Woodbury, Kayla Drake, Danny Wicentowski and Alex Heuer. Avery Rogers is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Kayla is a general assignment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.