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The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical

Theatre Review by Howard Miller - October 16, 2019

The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical Book by Joe Tracz. Music and Lyrics by Rob Rokicki. Adapted from the book “The Lightning Thief” by Rick Riordan. Directed by Stephen Brackett. Scenic design by Lee Savage. Costume design by Sydney Maresca. Lighting design by David Lander. Sound design by Ryan Rumery. New puppetry designs by AchesonWalsh Studios. Fight direction by Rod Kinter. Hair, wig, and makeup design by Dave Bova. Orchestrations by Wiley DeWeese and Rob Rokicki. Music director and supervisor Wiley DeWeese. Choreographed by Patrick McCollum. Cast: Jorrel Javier, Ryan Knowles, Chris McCarrell, Sarah Beth Pfeifer, James Hayden Rodriguez, Jalynn Steele, and Kristin Stokes.
Theatre: Longacre Theatre, 220 West 48th Street between Broadway and 8th Avenue
Tickets: Telecharge

Kristin Stokes, Chris McCarrell, and Jorrel Javier
Photo by Jeremy Daniel

Three teens with unusual powers meet at a special kind of school for people who are like them and wind up going on an urgent quest together. There's the lead protagonist, his nerdy best pal, and a young woman who is always the smartest one in the room. Sound sort of familiar? Well, their names are not Harry, Ron, and Hermione, and this isn't "Harry Potter." It's The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical, which opened tonight at the Longacre Theatre. It is a show that is aimed squarely and intentionally at the 7-10 age group, with barely a nod or a wink for the adults in attendance.

Based on Rick Riordan's popular book, also called "The Lightning Thief," and adapted by Joe Tracz, the musical has found much success in its previous incarnations, first as a one-hour free presentation in 2014 by TheatreWorks USA in New York, then with a national tour, followed next by an expanded version at Off Broadway's Lucille Lortel Theatre, followed by yet another tour. Whether, ahem, "lightning" will strike yet again in a Broadway house at Broadway prices remains to be seen. Certainly, there were plenty of youngsters in the audience at the matinee performance I was at. Save up your allowance, kids!

In the original book, the young characters are pre-teens themselves. Here, they appear to be high schoolers, rather like the gang in Be More Chill, another adaption by Joe Tracz that is also aimed at a very specific if slightly older demographic. Our brave trio is made up of Percy Jackson (Chris McCarrell), his bud Grover (Jorrel Javier), and Annabeth (Kristin Stokes). Percy, a misfit diagnosed as having ADHD and dyslexia, has had a long history of being expelled from every school he has attended. After his latest expulsion, the details of which are laid out in the show's first song (the efficient if unexciting pop-rock score is by Rob Rokicki), Percy's sympathetic mother (Jalynn Steele) tells him it is time he knew more about the father he believes abandoned him before he was born.

Turns out, Percy (short for Perseus) is the son of the Greek God of the Sea, Poseidon; his friend Grover is the son of a satyr and is, in fact, one himself, goat legs, bleat, and all; and Annabeth is the daughter of Athena, Goddess of Wisdom. The place Percy's mom takes him and where the three compadres meet up is called Camp Half-Blood, overseen by the curmudgeonly Mr. D (for Dionysus), also played by Jorrel Javier, here using his best Gilbert Gottfried voice. Camp Half-Blood is where Percy will learn what his special talent is and how to handle himself in combat.

Before you know it, it is quest time, as the trio goes out in search of Zeus's missing lightning bolt, which has been stolen. A confusion of plot elements that presumably the young fans of the book will understand better than this newcomer leads them to Los Angeles, where, apparently, both the Underworld and the lightning bolt can be found.

All told, as a piece of children's theater, The Lightning Thief, directed by Stephen Brackett who also did the honors for Be More Chill (are you sensing a pattern here?), boasts a strong cast that aims to please and is quite able to hold the attention of its intended audience. There are only seven cast members, and five of these play two or more roles. Chris McCarrell as Percy has a winning personality, even if he is growing a bit old for the part. (Fun fact: Percy was originally played by George Salazar, who went on to Be More Chill and some measure of fame for his performance of "Michael in the Bathroom").

Among the other cast members, I was particularly taken with Ryan Knowles, who throws himself all out into all of his parts, especially in the role of the centaur Chiron. Lee Savage's simple set design, Sydney Maresca's costumes (is tie-dye back in fashion?), and the low tech not-so-special effects make this an easy show to be picked up by schools and community theaters. And for families who can afford to do so, it certainly is a good way to introduce the youngsters to Broadway. But if it's Greek mythology you want in a musical, may I recommend Hadestown instead?