By Lynn Venhaus

A stand-up-and-cheer musical that makes the most of its moves and moments, “The Karate Kid The Musical” is a triumph for Stages St. Louis.

With its inspirational underdog storyline and a multi-generational, universal appeal that transcends a formula 1984 movie script, the musical version takes those familiar beats and capitalizes on the warm glow of nostalgia.

Perhaps against all odds, this slick production genuinely connects to an audience, wearing its heart of gold on its gi.

With its impeccable technical elements and a captivating East meets West aura, director Amon Miyamoto has polished this big-deal show to dazzle with crisp movements, stunning scenic and lighting designs, and a seamless flow – despite a long first act.

For those who haven’t seen “The Karate Kid” film from 1984, which garnered an Oscar nomination for Noriyuki “Pat” Morita as Mr. Miyagi and made such catch phrases as “Wax on, wax off” and “You trust the quality of what you know, not quantity” popular, viewing it isn’t a prerequisite.

The message of using your head and heart, not fists, to win in life, is evergreen.

This world premiere, with its winsome Miyagi-verse a major factor, runs through June 26 at the Kirkwood Performing Arts Center. 

Where it lands after that depends on what’s referred to as “a pre-Broadway tryout,” which means it is a work in progress. For now, it is in a first-reaction phase, and what we see here might not be the completed licensed material.

The simple premise is thus: Widowed mom and her teenage son move from New Jersey to Southern California, and while she has a good job, the Italian kid with the Jersey accent doesn’t fit in with the surfer crowd. 

Daniel LoRusso becomes a target of elitist punks who train at the same high-intensive karate school – the Cobra Kai dojo. Mr. Miyagi, the Okinawa-born maintenance man-gardener, happens to be a martial arts master and trains him to fight in an all-valley tournament a few months away.

While the movie has a distinctively ‘80s signature, not unlike “Footloose,” “The Breakfast Club,” “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” “Fame” and “Risky Business” back in the day, it has become a pop culture classic, as much known for Mr. Miyagi’s words of wisdom as the iconic “crane’ move. (And that big moment prompts more cheers).

The movie is credited with launching renewed interest in martial arts from American youth, sparking a franchise with two more sequels (1986 and 1989, a 1994 reboot “The New Karate Kid” and the television series, “Cobra Kai,” now on Netflix and about to start its fifth season on Sept. 9.

The musical’s book is adapted by screenwriter Robert Mark Kamen, who based the original film in part on his own experiences. 

In broad strokes, Kamen capitalizes on the key pieces – mother and son starting a new life, teenage boy not fitting into the California coastal milieu, the maintenance man who becomes a father figure, and the David vs. Goliath battle royale.

What is new is that the musical is framed as Mr. Miyagi’s memory, thus we return to the 1980s, and the journey of how he and Daniel developed a deep bond. 

Musical composer and lyricist Drew Gasparini obliges with numbers that fit into the framework, stripping the action down to basics: “California Dream,” “Square One,” “I Want to Know What You Know,” and the finale sentiment, “Stronger Than Before.”

The unorthodox training is captured in “Method to His Madness” and the epiphany breakthrough “Balance.”

A striking sense of rhythm is noteworthy throughout every ensemble number, with vibrant, precise choreography by Keone and Mari Madrid that uniquely stands out. A mix of modern hip-hop and traditional, cultural Far East dance, it is extraordinary in execution. 

It’s rare that a big, splashy musical number receives a standing ovation midway through the first act, but the bravado of “Strike First. Strike Hard. No Mercy” was a showstopper that prompted many in the opening night crowd to leap from their seats in enthusiastic applause.

Alan H. Green, who plays the brutal taskmaster John Kreese, had the crowd at his first snarl and it’s a fierce performance as the unsavory ‘win at all costs’ sensei.

By the time his ruthlessness is revealed, “The Whole World Will Be Watching,” to end act one, hints at danger ahead in Act 2, fueling anticipation for the big showdown.

Credit goes to the engaging ensemble – a mix of seasoned pros and energetic young performers, for their contributions to Stages meeting this moment.

Cardoza is the lynchpin here – charming and earnest, and all the relationships hinge on his likability as Daniel. He develops a palpable bond with Mr. Miyagi – Jovanni Sy in an unforgettable heart-tugging performance.

And that connection burrows into our hearts. 

Daniel and his mother, Lucille, played by the wondrous Kate Baldwin, a two-time Tony nominee, are at different crossroads, which they express clearly in songs. 

Baldwin showcases a sweet, well-trained soprano in “Doing Something Right” and a soulful “If I Could Take Away His Pain.”

No stranger to St. Louis, she won a St Louis Kevin Kline Award for her performance as Maria in The Muny’s 2005 staging of “The Sound of Music.”

The standard love triangle between Ali, her ex Johnny Lawrence and Daniel sets up the bigger issues with the bully (Jake Bentley Young fine in the thankless one-note role). 

As a girl with gumption, Jetta Juriansz puts some oomph into the stock love interest part, and her songs “Who I’m Supposed to Be” and “What Comes Next.”

As Daniel’s new pal Freddy, Luis-Pablo Garcia is a real charmer, and capably leads “Dreams Come True.”

Music Director Andrew Resnick’s strong arrangements are another noteworthy element, as is John Clancy’s orchestrations. 

It is evident that all the technical parts came together in such a high level, indelible way as to mesmerize. The black and red imagery is bold and impressive.

With its angles and moving doors, windows and walls, the stunning set design by Tony winner Derek McLane is one of the finest ever executed here – and another reason to wax rhapsodic. So is Tony winner Bradley King’s exceptional lighting design. 

With its snappy pace and mostly upbeat score, “The Karate Kid – the Musical” turns into a fun time meant to be shared with a pumped-up crowd, not unlike other classic feel-good sports stories “Rocky,” “Rudy” and “American Underdog.”

Obviously, this is a production with an unabashed gooey center, and say what you will, delivered as promised, bringing much comfort and joy to a wildly enthusiastic audience. 

After all, “Man who catch fly with chopstick, accomplish anything.”

Stages St Louis presents “The Karate Kid – The Musical” from May 25 to June 26 at the Kirkwood Performing Arts Center. For more information, visit www. StagesSTL.org. 

Portions of this review appeared in the June 17 issue of the Webster-Kirkwood Times.

STAGES St. Louis is thrilled to announce a new partnership with Emerson, STAGES 2021 Season Education Sponsor, titled Emerson Educates. The new program, exclusively for students, will offer special priced tickets to all 2021 Season STAGES’ productions in an effort to promote arts education and access throughout the region.

“With Emerson’s generous support, we will offer the most affordable student rush ticket price in STAGES history at just $10 per ticket” Mosbacher Family Executive Producer Jack Lane said. “Thanks to Emerson, this offer has the potential to benefit and provide arts access to more than 700 students each year.”

The special $10 tickets will be available throughout the 2021 Season to all students with valid student ID. Up to two tickets can be sold per transaction with ten tickets available at every performance. In addition to special priced tickets, Emerson Educates will offer a one-of-a-kind educational experience in conjunction with the upcoming STAGES Premiere of JERSEY BOYS. Underserved schools will be offered specially designed programming and lessons plans tied directly to the themes featured in the production as well as complimentary tickets and talk backs with members of the JERSEY BOYS creative team and cast.

“Arts education and access are vitally important to students of all ages,” said Crissy Nordin, Director of Education & Outreach at STAGES. “Emerson Educates will not only help in providing teachers with the proper tools to bring this to the classroom, but it will also directly connect that to the stage with unique in person opportunities for learning.”

Emerson Educates tickets are available throughout the 2021 Season for productions of ALWAYS… PATSY CLINE (August 6-September 5) and JERSEY BOYS (September 24-October 24). Tickets can be purchased on the day of performance by calling the STAGES Box Office at 314.821.2407 or visiting their locations in both Chesterfield and Kirkwood.

For more information, please follow STAGES on Facebook and Instagram or visit the organization’s website. STAGES St. Louis is the region’s foremost not-for-profit company committed to preserving and advancing the art form of Musical Theatre through excellence in performance and education.

In 2021, STAGES celebrates its 35th year of producing Broadway-quality theatre, as well as the grand opening of their new home, the $25 Million Ross Family Theatre at The Kirkwood Performing Arts Center.


In celebration of the reopening of live theatre in St. Louis and their 35th Anniversary Season,
STAGES St. Louis has announced their 2022 Season will feature the regional premiere of the Tony-Award
Winning IN THE HEIGHTS, music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda and book by Quiara Alegría Hudes.

IN THE HEIGHTS is a vital and thrilling musical about the American Dream set in the vibrant NYC
neighborhood of Washington Heights. Exploring the hopes and dreams of family, community, and more,
the production is a perfect fit for the STAGES mission and audience.

Before there was HAMILTON, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s IN THE HEIGHTS took Broadway by storm, winning the
Tony Award for Best Musical, as well as the Grammy Award for Best Musical Show Album. An acclaimed film
adaptation, directed by Jon M. Chu and starring Anthony Ramos, was released this past weekend.

“We are beyond excited about presenting IN THE HEIGHTS at STAGES in 2022. I can’t think of a better
show to be a part of our first full season at the Kirkwood Performing Arts Center. Everything about this
beautiful and melodic musical speaks to the stories that STAGES so loves to tell,” said Mosbacher Family
Executive Producer Jack Lane.

On its Broadway opening in 2008, The New York Times raved, “When this musical erupts in one of its
expressions of collective joy, the energy it gives off could light up the George Washington Bridge for a year
or two.” That energy will no doubt be alive and thriving on The Ross Family Theatre stage at the Kirkwood
Performing Arts Center in 2022.

STAGES St. Louis will announce the remainder of their 2022 Season later this summer. In the meantime,
tickets for STAGES 35th Anniversary Season, featuring the fan-favorite production of ALWAYS… PATSY
CLINE (August 6 – September 5) and the STAGES premiere of JERSEY BOYS (September 24 – October 24)
are on sale now. You can purchase two-show subscriptions or single tickets by visiting their website at
StagesStLouis.org or by calling the Box Office at 314.821.2407.

For more information, please follow STAGES on Facebook and Instagram or visit the organization’s website.
STAGES St. Louis is the region’s foremost not-for-profit company committed to preserving and advancing
the art form of Musical Theatre through excellence in performance and education. In 2021, STAGES
celebrates its 35th year of producing Broadway-quality theatre, as well as the grand opening of our new
home, the $25 Million Kirkwood Performing Arts Center.

STAGES Performing Arts Academy is regionally renowned for its innovative and multi-disciplinary programs
that transform lives through immersion in the Musical Theatre arts. Celebrating its 16th year, it is also the
only such program in the St. Louis region to be connected to a professional theatre company.


For more information on the Academy or to register today please call 636.449.5775 or visit us online at
www.StagesStLouis.org.Two-show subscription and single tickets for the 2021 Season are on sale now. For more information,
please call 314.821.2407 or visit www.StagesStLouis.or

STAGES St. Louis Artistic Director and co-founder, Michael Hamilton, has announced that he will be retiring at the end of the 2021 Season.

“From our opening season in 1987 to our launch into the stunning new Kirkwood Performing Arts Center, every moment at STAGES has been an extraordinary one for me. As I explore and embrace the next chapter in my life, my heart will always remain at STAGES,” said Artistic Director Michael Hamilton. “It is truly a life legacy that I am incredibly proud of. But I am particularly proud and grateful of all the
extraordinary people that I met and worked with in my 35 years at STAGES. That is something I will be able
to keep in my heart for the rest of my life.”

A co-founder of STAGES St. Louis, Michael has directed over 100 productions in his 35-year STAGES history and has been the creative force behind the company’s most iconic productions that patrons have come to know and love. For his work at STAGES, Michael has been honored with multiple awards including the Art & Education Council’s 2019 Lifetime Achievement Award (with Jack Lane) and both Kevin Kline and St. Louis Theatre Circle Awards for Outstanding Director of a Musical. Michael’s list of award-winning productions
include FOOTLOOSE (2005); THE FULLY MONTY (2007); PROMISES, PROMISES (2010); ANYTHING GOES
(2015); and MAN OF LA MANCHA (2019).

Additionally, Michael’s acclaimed production of ALWAYS…PATSY CLINE (2013) was not only transferred to the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, but also played a record-breaking eight-month run at the Playhouse at Westport Plaza.

“When Michael and Jack asked me in my role as Kirkwood’s Director of Parks and Recreation to rent the Robert G. Reim Theatre for the first STAGES Season in 1987, I don’t think any of us imagined what would come of that meeting,” said STAGES Board President Dave White. “But Michael had a vision and knew what he could do with that stage at the Reim. Seeing the growth of the organization from that point is one of the proudest parts of my career. Under Michael’s direction, STAGES has absolutely raised the bar for
what theatre looks like in St. Louis.”

“As the saying goes, there will be very big shoes to fill with the departure of Michael Hamilton,” said Mosbacher Family Executive Producer Jack Lane. “But, I have no doubt that there is a future artistic leader of STAGES out there waiting for us. As we enter our new phase in the Kirkwood Performing Arts Center, STAGES is setting sail onto a national platform that no doubt will unfold in dynamic new ways and be embraced by both our loyal patrons and newcomers alike.”

Jack added, “We are also pleased to announce that we are establishing The Michael Hamilton Artistic Fund, where contributions will support the advancement of artistic needs at STAGES.”

The entire STAGES family wishes Michael the best in his well-deserved retirement and thanks him for his steadfast leadership and dedication to the mission of STAGES for 35 years. A national search has begun for the new Artistic Director role.

The organization looks forward to the curtain rising again with the return of Michael’s critically-acclaimed and audience-loved production of ALWAYS… PATSY CLINE (August 6-September 5) this upcoming season, followed by the STAGES premiere of JERSEY BOYS (September 24-October 24).

For more information, please follow STAGES on Facebook and Instagram or visit the organization’s website. STAGES St. Louis is the region’s foremost not-for-profit company committed to preserving and advancing the art form of Musical Theatre through excellence in performance and education.

Michael Hamilton

In 2021, STAGES celebrates its 35th year of producing Broadway-quality theatre, as well as the grand opening of our new
home, the Kirkwood Performing Arts Center. STAGES Performing Arts Academy is regionally renowned for its innovative and multi-disciplinary programs that transform lives through immersion in the Musical Theatre arts. Celebrating its 16th year, it is also the
only such program in the St. Louis region to be connected to a professional theatre company. Whatever the age or experience level, whether a new or continuing student, aspiring performing artists throughout the St. Louis region have the opportunity to explore and cultivate their talent at STAGES, and set the stage for life changing experiences.

For more information or to register today please call 636.449.5775 or visit us online at www.StagesStLouis.org.
Two-show subscription purchases for the 2021 Season will go on sale on May 17. Single ticket sales begin June 1. For more information, please call 314.821.2407 or visit www.StagesStLouis.org.

In response to continuing COVID-19 restrictions and after extensive discussions with staff leadership and the Board of Trustees, STAGES St. Louis will officially amend the 2021 Mainstage Season.

The mainstage production of A CHORUS LINE as well as the Family Theatre Series production of A YEAR WITH FROG & TOAD are cancelled. STAGES will still celebrate its 35th Anniversary Season and move into the new Kirkwood Performing Arts Center with revised schedules for ALWAYS… PATSY CLINE and JERSEY BOYS,

Subscribers will receive a mailing the week of March 29 containing additional information and confirming these changes. The letter will also lay out all possible ticketing options for A CHORUS LINE.

“When planning for our return to live performances last fall, no one imagined that we would be in this challenging position once again,” said Associate Producer Andrew Kuhlman. “But, like so many others, here we are. And while these decisions have been incredibly difficult, we believe that they have been made with the best interest of our community in mind and we remain steadfastly hopeful.”

ALWAYS… PATSY CLINE and JERSEY BOYS will be performed in the brand new Ross Family Theatre at The Kirkwood Performing Arts Center in Downtown Kirkwood. The adjusted season schedule will be as follows:

  • ALWAYS… PATSY CLINE (August 6 – September 5, 2021)
  • JERSEY BOYS (September 24 – October 24, 2021)

“Our top priority since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the health and safety of our patrons, performers, staff, students, and community,” said Executive Producer Jack Lane. “Despite the challenges of the past year, I cannot imagine a better way to celebrate a return to live theatre than with our 35th Anniversary Season premiering at our new home in The Ross Family Theatre at the Kirkwood Performing Arts Center.”

Two-show subscriptions will go on sale beginning May 17, as will subscriber exchanges and subscriber single ticket sales. General public single ticket sales will begin June 1. Any further changes to the 2021 Season will be posted on the STAGES website and shared via email and social media.

For more information, please follow STAGES on Facebook and Instagram or visit the organization’s website.

STAGES St. Louis is the region’s foremost not-for-profit company committed to preserving and advancing the art form of Musical Theatre through excellence in performance and education. In 2021, STAGES celebrates its 35th year of producing Broadway-quality theatre, as well as the grand opening of the new Kirkwood Performing Arts Center.

STAGES Performing Arts Academy is regionally renowned for its innovative and multi-
disciplinary programs that transform lives through immersion in the Musical Theatre arts. Celebrating its 16th year, it is also the only such program in the St. Louis region to be connected to a professional theatre company. Whatever the age or experience level, whether a new or continuing student, aspiring performing artists throughout the St. Louis region have the opportunity to explore and cultivate their talent at STAGES, and set the stage for life changing experiences. For more information or to register today please call 636.449.5775 or visit us online at
www.StagesStLouis.org.

Two-show subscription purchases for the 2021 Season will go on sale on May 17. Single ticket sales begin June 1. For more information, please call 314.821.2407 or visit www.StagesStLouis.org.

Stages St. Louis has announced the groundbreaking of its new home, the Kirkwood Performing Arts Center, located in Downtown Kirkwood, Mo. A groundbreaking ceremony will be hosted by the City of Kirkwood for the new Performing Arts Center on Thursday, Nov. 8, at 4 p.m. The center will be located at the corner of South Taylor Avenue and Monroe Avenue in downtown Kirkwood.
Stages St. Louis enthusiastically awaits opening its 2020 Season as the first tenant to occupy the new Performing Arts Center. Additional tenants of the facility include the Kirkwood Theatre Guild and the Kirkwood Youth Theatre program (run by the City of Kirkwood). Of the move, STAGES’ Executive Producer Jack Lane states:
“The move to the new Kirkwood Performing Arts Center will help secure a bright and exciting future for STAGES, our incredibly loyal patrons and audience members, and the City of Kirkwood. We look forward to becoming an integral member of the vibrant Downtown Kirkwood community while continuing to serve as an artistic leader for the St. Louis region and beyond.”

The new facility, projected to open in late spring of 2020, will house a 525-seat state of the art mainstage theatre. In addition to an increase in number of seats, the Performing Arts Center will offer mezzanine level seating, a 2,000 square foot event space, upper and lower lobbies connected by a grand staircase, and a 3,000 square foot black box theatre/event space.
“The increase in theatre size is something that we are really looking forward to” Lane said. “Stages productions tend to sell out often and quickly, so more seats for us does not just mean an increase in our annual ticket revenue. It means that more people will have the opportunity to experience the magic of a Stages production.”
Hoping to create a new home for theatre in downtown Kirkwood, Staes will continue cultivating the performing arts talent pool both in the St. Louis region and nationally. Additionally, Stages is eager to drive people to the many businesses and restaurants that will be the neighbors of the facility and become a vital part of the Downtown Kirkwood community.
Initial discussions with project partners and citizens, along with planning for the construction of the $25 million Performing Arts Center have been in progress for approximately two years and construction is expected to begin immediately. Renderings will be available at the groundbreaking for viewing by the public and media.