CHESTERFIELD, Mo. — Robert Mark Kamen was via with “The Karate Kid,” his semi-autobiographical 1984 martial arts movie that spawned a string of flicks, an animated program and the hit Netflix collection “Cobra Kai,” till he noticed “Hadestown” in 2019. That’s when he realized: He cherished musicals.
“When you watch a movie, the camera is limited to one dimension,” Kamen, 74, stated in early May throughout a break from rehearsals for “The Karate Kid — The Musical,” which is debuting on the new $25 million Kirkwood Performing Arts Center simply outdoors St. Louis. “With this thing, you can have three dimensions, people doing something [pointing] here, here, here, going up and down, around and around, all at the same time. … It opened up so many possibilities.”
An impressed Kamen went again to his resort — and wrote what would develop into the opening of a new musical, full with taiko drums and dancing ancestors. He additionally referred to as the one that’d despatched him to New York as a homework project, the producer Kumiko Yoshii, who had been campaigning since 2016 for the rights to “The Karate Kid” franchise, which Kamen owned with Sony Pictures.
“He was so excited and had so many ideas,” Yoshii stated. “But at the heart of it all was still the relationship between Daniel and his mentor, Mr. Miyagi.”
The result’s a musical adaptation of the basic movie about a teenage American boy (Ralph Macchio) who learns martial arts from an Okinawan-born janitor and karate grasp (Pat Morita, whose efficiency earned an Oscar nomination) to defeat a highschool bully. The musical stars John Cardoza (“Jagged Little Pill”) as Daniel LaRusso, the titular karate child, and the Canadian actor Jovanni Sy as his mentor, Chojun Miyagi.
Though the plot intently follows that of the unique movie — the story remains to be set within the Nineteen Eighties — the musical’s forged and artistic staff of greater than 40 artists is markedly extra various.
The director, Amon Miyamoto, was the primary — and stays the one — Japanese citizen to direct a present on Broadway (a 2004 revival of the Stephen Sondheim-John Weidman musical “Pacific Overtures”); Keone and Mari Madrid, the married Filipino American choreographers, have labored with Justin Bieber and Billie Eilish and just lately directed and choreographed the Britney Spears jukebox musical “Once Upon a One More Time”; and the costume designer Ayako Maeda, has received quite a few awards in her native Japan. Kamen wrote the guide, and the songwriter Drew Gasparini, recognized for his work on “Smash,” wrote the music and lyrics.
“It’s an American film,” the director, Miyamoto, 64, stated in Japanese through an interpreter throughout a rehearsal break in early May. “But we’ve added Japanese elements.”
Those parts embrace placing a better emphasis on Mr. Miyagi by framing the story as his recollection of occasions, which Kamen stated was his authentic imaginative and prescient for the movie earlier than the filmmakers determined to deal with Macchio’s Daniel. There can be a rating by Gasparini that blends pop, rock and Okinawan music; costumes that includes conventional Japanese apparel, together with a kimono, by Maeda; and a dance-heavy manufacturing that fuses the Madrids’ hip-hop choreography fashion with karate.
“There has to be a reason to adapt it into a musical,” Kamen stated. “If we’re doing exactly the same thing as the film, there’s no reason we have to create this for the stage.”
INSIDE A FORMER CHURCH in Chesterfield, Mo., on a Saturday morning in early May, ribbons of sunshine shone via stained glass home windows as a line of dancers fanned out like peacock feathers on each side of Sy, who was singing the tune “Bonsai,” which extols the ability of endurance and focus.
“Needles start to bend,” he sang because the dancers undulated up and down, elevating and decreasing their arms in sync. Eventually, they might be backlit to appear to be a bonsai tree.
Kamen, among the many inventive staff on the rehearsal that day, thanked Keone Madrid, calling the scene “beautiful.”
“Then you’re going to see ‘Strike First. Strike Hard.’ and want to run through a wall afterward,” a smiling Keone Madrid stated, referring to the musical’s subsequent tune, a pulsing anthem with pounding drums and frenetic kicks and punches.
Kamen, at first, had been lower than eager on musicalizing his signature franchise. But after a few months of assembly requests from Yoshii, his agent persuaded him to have dinner along with her in Los Angeles in January 2017.
Not understanding he was a winery proprietor and wine fanatic, she let him select the wine (an costly bottle of Burgundy) at dinner. “To him, the fact that I let him select the wine was important,” she stated. “After that, his response to every idea I had was, ‘OK, let’s give it a shot.’” (Kamen confirmed this, including he was received over by his fourth glass.)
“The character of Mr. Miyagi spoke to me a great deal growing up,” stated Yoshii, who was a highschool change scholar in Bozeman, Mont., when the movie was launched in theaters in 1984. “Because of Miyagi, kids talked to me about the Japanese karate element.”
Because “The Karate Kid” is Kamen’s story, he was the pure alternative to jot down the guide, Yoshii stated. There was only one downside: He didn’t know something about musicals. “I called my agent, Jack Tantleff, and I said, ‘Now what the [expletive] do I do?’ I don’t know how to do this,” he stated. “He said, ‘You’ll learn.’”
Kamen and Gasparini, started assembly up in New York, the place they might see 4 exhibits a week. Then Gasparini, who’s from California, would spend time at Kamen’s guesthouse in Sonoma, with a moveable piano, engaged on the rating.
Gasparini selected a mix of pop, rock and Okinawan music, which included touring to Okinawa, Japan, in October 2019 to check with two musicians. Two songs for Mr. Miyagi function a sanshin, a three-stringed instrument made from snake pores and skin. (For the war-hardened John Kreese, performed by Alan H. Green, the antagonist and chief of the Cobra Kai dojo, he went with Metallica-inspired electrical guitars.)
Capturing the essence of the characters from the movie, who additionally embrace Ali Mills (Jetta Juriansz), Daniel’s love curiosity, and his mom, Lucille LaRusso (Kate Baldwin), can be the method that Miyamoto stated he tried to undertake in his path. “With Kreese and Mr. Miyagi especially, we delve into what makes them who they are, and how they got that way,” he stated.
Kreese, as an example, is a Vietnam veteran grappling with the lingering trauma of his experiences, and Yoshii stated they needed the forged to know what that meant.
So they had, amongst others, a Marine veteran and a World War II historian (Mr. Miyagi is a World War II veteran) converse to the forged in regards to the two wars that come into play within the story.
“Robert’s script goes a little deeper in the musical than the movie,” Yoshii stated. “So it was like if we’re going to do that, we have to talk to these guys, so the actors aren’t just doing what they think or what their imagination conjures up about what experiences are.”
But for the added gravity of each males’s wartime experiences, the movie’s lighthearted middle stays. The secret weapon, Kamen stated, is the choreography.
“The dance will be the thing that takes people by surprise,” stated Cardoza, 28, who was a fan of the movie rising up. “You think ‘Karate Kid, combat fighting.’ You don’t think ‘dance.’”
During rehearsals final month, these two parts blended as 14 dancers enjoying Cobra Kai college students, clad in shorts and kneepads, emerged from behind a semicircle of rolling mirrors. Green, stone-faced in a black tank prime and sweats, prowled their ranks.
“Fear does not exist in this dojo, does it?” he shouted.
“No, sensei!” they answered.
“Pain does not exist in this dojo, does it?”
“What is our motto?”
“Strike first! Strike hard! No mercy!”
They launched into a rock quantity, kicking, pumping their fists then turning outward and stutter-stepping ahead like synchronized robots, all in a matter of seconds.
Mari Madrid stated they approached the musical realizing that they weren’t going to make black belts out of the forged over a monthlong rehearsal interval. “It was about giving inspiration to the essence of it,” she stated. “Can they punch properly? Can they block properly?”
That’s to not say some forged members didn’t come ready. Sy earned a brown belt in karate, and Cardoza, who does certainly do the crane kick, was a aggressive determine skater for 15 years. (Sakura Kokumai, who represented the United States within the girls’s kata occasion on the 2020 Olympics, was additionally introduced in to show foundational strikes.)
Keone and Mari Madrid are additionally answerable for choreographing the actions of 5 new characters, the spirits of fireside, water, earth, tree and steel, who symbolize the custom of karate. They shadow Mr. Miyagi’s actions, in a nod to the kuroko of Japanese Kabuki theater — actors clad in all black who the viewers see however are skilled to disregard, who magically make issues occur onstage.
“Keone and Mari are able to infuse something that is invisible into their visible dance,” Miyamoto stated, including that in Japan “we’re used to seeing reality onstage that way — he’s there, but I’m not seeing him. So it’ll be interesting to see how an American audience reacts to that.”
IN A BLACK POLO AND TROUSERS throughout rehearsals, Sy was an unassuming presence — till he started training a scene.
“DANIEL SAN!!” he thundered.
“What?” a resentful Cardoza requested.
“Show me ‘Wax on.’”
He moved his proper hand in a semicircle.
He repeated the movement together with his left.
Cardoza imitated him.
“Wax on.” Sy did a slow-motion chest punch. Cardoza blocked it.
Cardoza’s eyes lit up with understanding.
Moments like this one, instantly recognizable to any “Karate Kid” fan, are as a lot a a part of the musical because the fleshed-out story traces and infusion of dance, Kamen stated.
“No one is coming to see this who doesn’t know ‘The Karate Kid,’” he stated. “But they have no idea how far out to the edges we’ve taken the song and dance.”
Among the primary to witness these modifications will probably be a few of the authentic movie’s forged members, who’re planning to be at opening night time on Wednesday. They embrace Macchio and William Zabka, who performed Johnny Lawrence, Cobra Kai’s prime scholar and Daniel’s rival. Yoshii stated there are plans to take it to Broadway subsequent season.
“It’s Christmas morning once again for ‘The Karate Kid,’” Macchio stated in a telephone interview in mid-May. “It’s like unwrapping another version of this gift. I want to be humming Drew Gasparini’s tunes on the way to the parking lot.”