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A CurtainUp Review

It's Karate, Kid!, the Musical
By Amanda Cooper

Well, they used to be okay until they synchronized their periods for the forces of evil.
---Ali (regarding the Bitchkicks)
Thomas Lash  in  It's The Karate Kid!
Foreground: Thomas Lash as The Evil Sensei -- rear: cast members. (Photo: Carol Rosegg)

Alright fine, so I'm instantly skeptical of remakes of decade-specific movies, but I am also hopeful that one of these productions might one day indulge guilty pleasures and be creative in its own right. It's Karate, Kid! The Musical has impeccable 80s attire but though it doesn't succeed in translating the "life-is-hard-and-heavy, man" oomph behind every cult classic from said decade, what it does is much more -- and it does so in such excess that it's impossible to catch everything that happens, and seeing the show a second time is a viable option.

Make no mistake, this is not the Mr. Miyagi that we grew to know and love over four films, and there is nothing sweet and innocent about any of these characters. This production is trashy, flashy, flaming, raunchy, and flaming (it deserves to be said twice). Though Daniel-san is still flanked by Ali, a saccharine, upscale gal, his interest in her is no more than a plot point (you know, so karate expert/ex-boyfriend Johnny will kick his ass).

Karate Kid, the movie, may share a general story line with this musical, but this time around each character's motivations is sex, and each male character prefers the homosexual variety. Of course this homoerotic lens does bring about plot issues and renders some characters useless, but don't think too hard about it or you'll just be wasting brain cells and missing the top of the next scene.

Author Travis Kramer seems to savor a twilight-zoned 1980s California, where both teenagers and adults party on the beach, speak an amalgam of cheesy movie talk and uber streetspeak, and openly share their sex and drugs life. Everything is a dirty joke, and if something flies past, perhaps you need to study that program back page glossary more carefully, or perhaps you lucked out and missed a lemon. Either is possible for Kramer is clever and quick, but often too blatant. He still needs to learn that our own imaginations can push far beyond spelled out sex slights.

The show's nineteen songs are at times reminiscent of the 80s but always ripped from a pre-written song. They range from classics like "Gem is truly outrageous" to tunes that don't even sounding familiar. Complete with brand new, usually kinky lyrics, also penned by Kramer, these melodies float between rock, swing and hip-hop. From "Why am I always tricking like a back alley slut," to "Bitchkicks!/Juggernauts with twats!" Kramer spares no slang.

The staging team is large: Director Jake Hirzel, Choreographer Jennifer L. Mudge and fight choreographer Qui Nguyen. Not one of them is superfluous and as a team they create colorful, hysterical scenes that pulse with energy and consistently impress.

But the standouts of the evening are the shockingly talented cast. They can ALL rock a song, slam out a dance, and serve up a tautly acted scene. Extra special mentions go to Matthew Simpkins as the ever-energetic constantly tossed around Daniel-san, and Sarah Hubbard as the sparky, oblivious Ali.

Life isn't perfect, and neither is It's Karate, Kid!, the Musical, but the show is loveable none the less. It revels in its own sick, irreverent squalor. It's amazing that all involved in the production have chosen to work with this insanity…but they have chosen well.

Music and Lyrics by Travis Kramer
Directed by Jake Hirzel.
Additional lyrics by Tom Oster
Choreography by Jennifer L. Mudge
Cast: Jennifer Byrne (Mrs. Lucille Larusso), Charles Duff (Tim Reynolds), Sarah Hubbard (Ali Mills), Kevin Kirkwood (Mr. Miyagi), James LaRosa (Freddie Fernandez), Thomas Lash (Evil Sensei), Melina Lizette (Cindy DeCarlo), Andrew Rannells (Johnny Lawrence), Matthew Simpkins (Daniel-San Larusso), Karl Warden (Brad Stevens) and Amanda Weeden (Crazy Old Bitch), and features Kerry Flanagan, Mary Kelley and Nicole Lewis as the trio of menacing "Bitchkicks. "
Set Design: Nick Francone
Costume Design: Sidney Shannon
Lighting Design: Bill Sheehan
Sound Design: Adam Farquharson
Fight direction by Qui Nguyen.
Running time: 2 hours twenty minutes, including 10 minute intermission
The Four Corners Project at Teatro La Tea, 107 Suffolk Street (between Delancey and Rivington)212-352-3101
From 12/02/04 to 12/18/04; opening 12/03.
Reviewed by Amanda Cooper based on December 2nd performance
Musical Numbers
Act One
  • 1. Ave Karate (The Bitchkicks)
  • 2. Movin To Reseda (Mrs. Larusso & Daniel-San)
  • 3. They Call Me Freddie (Freddie Fernandez)
  • 4. Crazy Old Blues (Crazy Old Bitch)
  • 5. Daniel-San's Lament (Daniel-San & Miyagi)
  • 6. A My Name Is Ali (Ali Mills)
  • 7. We Are The Bitchkicks (Johnny & The Bitchkicks)
  • 8. Daniel-San's Fugue (Daniel-San)
  • 9. Miyagi's Compassion (Miyagi & Mrs. Larusso)
  • 10. Daniel-San's Confession (Daniel-San & Ali Mills)
  • 11. I'm Only Happy When I'm BAD! (Johnny Lawrence)
  • 12. The Way Of The Fisting (The Evil Sensei)
  • 13. Intermission Time (The Bitchkicks)
Act Two
  • 14. Wax On! Wax Off! (Miyagi & Daniel-San)
  • 15. The Date-N-Stuff (Daniel-San & Ali Mills)
  • 16. Unsavory Things (Mrs. Larusso)
  • 17. The Way Of The Buss (Miyagi)
  • 18. Miyagi's Lament (Miyagi, Daniel-San, & Ali Mills)
  • 19. You're The Karate Kid! (Cast)
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