Broadway may be the next battleground for “The Karate Kid,” which is being developed into a stage musical.
Robert Mark Kamen — who wrote the semiautobiographical screenplay of the 1984 movie, plus its two immediate sequels — has written the musical’s book. Though the franchise has since grown to span five films, an animated television show and the YouTube Premium series “Cobra Kai,” the stage show will stick to the story of the original movie, which kick-started Ralph Macchio’s career and earned Noriyuki “Pat” Morita an Oscar nomination.
“I never dreamed that this movie would have the life it’s had,” Kamen told The Times. “When I first wrote this, I thought it was just gonna be a nice little movie that might do $30 million at the box office and then leave. Then the first film came out and it became a phenomenon, and then the sequel came out and did more than the first movie did, I couldn’t believe it. Even now, whenever I hear parents or grandparents are watching it with their young kids, it’s very heartwarming.”
Amon Miyamoto — who made history in 2004 as the first Japanese director on Broadway, with his four-time, Tony-nominated staging of “Pacific Overtures” — will direct the new musical, with music and lyrics by Drew Gasparini and choreography by Keone and Mari Madrid. Derek McLane will design the sets.
“I was inspired to do a stage adaptation of ‘The Karate Kid’ because it tells a story we need in this ongoing ‘Age of Division’ as our society becomes increasingly globalized,” said Miyamoto in a statement. “The sweet contradiction of ‘The Karate Kid’ is that the real nature of karate is, as the show says, ‘not for attack.’ Not to hurt, not to win, but to let opposing energies play out and come in grace to a conclusion that allows dignity and respect for all.”
Released by Columbia Pictures, “The Karate Kid” centers on a teenage boy named Daniel (played by Macchio) who, upon moving from New Jersey to Los Angeles, gets bullied at his new school. Kesuke Miyagi (played by Morita) agrees to teach him karate, plus important lessons in discipline and self-confidence.
The movie was a surprise hit of summer 1984, grossing $90 million worldwide, and it’s widely credited with popularizing karate in the United States. Two sequels continued the adventures of Morita and Macchio; a fourth installment saw Morita’s character training another troubled teen, played by Hilary Swank. A China-set 2010 reboot starred Jackie Chan as a coach to Jaden Smith.
Kamen has been working on the musical’s book for a year and a half.
“I didn’t know what to expect. I was never a big musical theater person. I’m basically a feature [film] writer forever — but this is the most collaborative thing I’ve ever done, and I’ve had the best time,” he said in a call from Northern California. “The combination of this story with the movement and the music unlocks all these things you can do onstage that you can’t do with a camera. ... When Amon described a concept for the final fight scene that’s so theatrical and energetic and mesmerizing, it blew my mind.”
Though casting has not yet been finalized, Kamen reassures that culturally authentic casting is a top priority for the musical, produced by Japanese conglomerate Kinoshita Group and Gorgeous Entertainment’s Kumiko Yoshii and Michael Wolk (“Pacific Overtures”).
“Everybody thinks it’s Daniel’s story, but it’s really Daniel’s story as told through Mr. Miyagi, as he watches that boy grow up,” said Kamen. “He was always the most important character to me. He represents who we all want in our lives — a kind and gentle father figure who has the answer to everything. You can’t have Mr. Miyagi being played by a white guy. He has to be an Asian actor.”