KIRKWOOD, Mo. — An iconic franchise took center stage with the world premiere of “The Karate Kid: The Musical” Wednesday night at the Kirkwood Performing Arts Center.
The long-lasting success of “The Karate Kid” has been turned into movies, a TV show, and now a musical.
“We’re all really excited and invested in the story and how it’s grown,” said Leah Berry, a St. Louis native and understudy for Lucille/Swing. “I think you will leave the theatre wanting to be a ninja.”
The musical has been in previews for a week, but on Wednesday night, it reached a milestone with its debut in the St. Louis area. The story of a teen beating his bullies with help from his sensei, Mr. Miyagi, originates from the screenwriter’s own life.
“I was writing a small little movie that was very personal to me with my experiences with a karate teacher, and I never expected anything,” said the original screenwriter of “The Karate Kid,” Robert Mark Kamen. “Didn’t expect five movies and did not expect ‘Cobra Kai’ and definitely did not expect a musical.”
“I’ve been working in theatre since I was 10, but I’ve never originated a part of this magnitude,” said actor Jake Bentley, who plays Johnny Lawrence. “You take this stereotypical antagonist like Johnny, and you’ve got a whole lot of layers that make his character so fleshed out.”
It’s a big role to live up to, especially when legendary actor Martin Kove, who played John Kreese in the original film, comes to see the musical live in action.
“I’m really interested to see how far they go with it, where they go in the realm of villainy, where they how far they go with vulnerability,” said Kove. “Is he really the one-dimensional guy that was in the movie, or is he a multifaceted character that we’re finding out about John Kreese in the series? Plus I want to see the songs.”
“You’re right there, and they’re spitting on you because you’re so close,” Kove added. “But the words are so rich and so fantastic that I think the experience is more emphatic. The experience is more direct and meaningful than the cinema.”
Those songs are a new way to watch the characters sweep the leg and strike first and strike hard.
“The pressure of this title is on all of our shoulders, but the joy of bringing this style of music from ok to heavy metal to pop-rock all kind of in this sonic landscape, for me as a creative person, it’s a joy,” said Drew Gasparini Okinawa, composer and lyricist for “The Karate Kid: The Musical”
The musical will run through June 26 and then move to its new home on Broadway soon after.