Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical
By Rachel Pacelli
doesn’t strike twice in this musical adaptation of a beloved series.
was 2005 when Rick Riordan’s smash children’s book The Lightning Thief
was first introduced. In a post-Harry Potter world, young readers were
excitedly gobbling up the next fantasy-adventure series, and this tale of a
twelve-year-old demigod seemed to strike a chord.
The Percy Jackson Series was born
when Riordan created Greek Mythological bedtime stories for his son, Haley, who
was diagnosed with dyslexia and ADHD. In these tales of young demigods fighting
to save the world, the characters have ‘superpowers’: dyslexia, to read Greek,
and ADHD for heightened battle reflexes. This inclusivity is at the heart of Percy
much success, including a few underwhelming film adaptations, two Off-Broadway
runs, and multiple nationwide tours, The Lightning Thief is finally
making its Broadway debut at the Longacre Theatre.
story follows Percy Jackson (Chris McCarrell) who discovers he is a demigod
(half-God) after battling a Fury on a class trip. Realizing he’s in danger,
Percy is sent to Camp Half Blood, a refuge for teenaged demigods. After a
riveting and intense game of capture the flag, Percy learns he is actually the
son of Poseidon, one of the “big three” (Zeus, Hades, Poseidon). This is
strictly off-limits, and is the reason Percy is accused of stealing Zeus’s famed
an attempt to clear his name, and save the world, Percy, his best friend Grover
(Jorrel Javier), and the daughter of Athena, Annabeth (Kristin Stokes) journey
to the underworld to retrieve the bolt.
a lot to dissect with this production because it, quite literally, throws
everything at you (white streamers blanket the audience at one point in the
second act). Many technical aspects feel over-the-top and occasionally
overwhelming. David Lander, with lighting design, creates an unnecessary and
crowded array of dimly flashing streams as a backdrop. The change in red tones
to set up the underworld is effective, as are the various lighting effects used
for establishing sceneries (Lee Savage, scenic design). However, there are more
than a few times where the bright lights are so strong that the audience has to
the sound, done by Ryan Rumery, is a tad too loud, particularly during flashes
credit is given to the puppetry designs by Achesonwalsh Studios. Some of the
most awe-inspiring moments of the musical are when various mythological
monsters appear onstage. The Minotaur, in particular, is exciting and feels
like something out of Universal Studios. There are spectacles like this
throughout, keeping an almost childlike wonder alive.
reveal of the oracle, Delphi (Jalynn Steele) is eerie and visually stunning,
making you wish the prophetical song was a bit longer (“Go west and face the
Steele shines in every role she plays, including Percy’s mother, but has her
most engaging moment as Charon, a Disco-styled singer. In “D.O.A.”, we are
given a tour of the underworld and this ironically lively number has the most
complex choreography in the show. (“I ferry the souls of the newly deceased/I
got a sweet ride, it was newly leased!”)
multiple characters, Ryan Knowles is the most transformational actor onstage.
First introduced as the wise Chiron (complete with a hilarious cantered walk),
Knowles’ most striking trait is his deep, baritone voice that immediately
screams gravitas. It’s what he can do with that voice, though, that’s really
impressive. He plays a range of characters, from Poseidon (as a California
surfer), to Hades (in a glittery jacket and flamboyant mannerisms), to Auntie M
(an extremely creepy and menacing Medusa).
costumes, makeup, and design by Dave Bova are spot-on in helping bring these
mythological characters to life.
Beth Pfeifer is committed and bubbling with rage as Clarisse, daughter of
Aries, and consistently fills the stage with her presence in “Put You in Your
Place” (“Heard you were tough/but you don’t look it/Your goose is cooked/I’m
here to cook it”).
are an adequate number of battle scenes throughout, choreographed by Patrick
McCollum, but the fights appear simplified and don’t always feel motivationally
this performance, actor Sam Leicht took over as understudy for “Luke”, along
with a handful of other parts. Leicht has a decent amount of fight choreography,
complex changes, various characters, and an emotional depth. He fits into the
play seamlessly and his number, “The Last Day of Summer”, is pained and
relatable. (“I did everything they ever asked/And for what?”)
Stokes as Annabeth inhabits some of the more emotionally filled moments in the
show. Her solo, “My Grand Plan”, is baked with a need and determination to be
seen that deeply resonates, (“But I promise you I’ll never be invisible
again/Someone will notice/Me”).
the director, Stephen Brackett, does a solid job in setting up new scenes and
keeping the action flowing, he oftentimes chooses the “more is better” adage in
terms of visuals, sound, and moving parts. Many of the weaknesses in the show
are due to the book (Joe Tracz), music, and lyrics (Rob Rokicki). Most of the
dialogue is extremely juvenile, and the songs, even with a few fun numbers, are
too on the nose and one-note. This is a family show, so aspects may be
inherently juvenile, but a musical directed towards children doesn’t have to be
dumbed down or obvious.
Javier is often a casualty of this. As the satyr, Grover, he is often given the
most childish material, including talking to a squirrel while dramatically
nodding his head, and purposefully showing to the audience how excited he is.
As Mr. D (Dionysius), Javier is over-the-top, which is a fine choice for this
comedic character, but he plays it vocally invariant which becomes grating as
time goes on.
Chris McCarrell as our lead character, Percy Jackson, has moments of true
emotional depth, but often falls into a portrayal of a stereotypical teenager.
The word that best describes his performance, and the writing, is angsty.
Lightning Thief is
comprised of not one, not two, but five angsty power ballads sung by our
protagonist. He doesn’t know what just happened, he doesn’t know who he is, he
misses his mother, etc. The first few songs are fine, but when that
all-too-familiar electric guitar begins to strum as Percy stands alone onstage,
you’ll find yourself rolling your eyes while shouting to the Gods, “We get it!”
final number of the show ends with a decent metaphor for real-life bad guys in
“Bring On the Monsters”, (“I’ll be back next summer/You’ll see me again”). The
question, though, is do we want to see them again?
you or your child are fans of the books, then you will probably enjoy this
production due to pure nostalgia. It does make you wonder whether The
Lightning Thief should’ve remained on the page. There just hasn’t been any
adaptation that’s quite captured the lightning in a bottle effect of the
series. If anything, every version just feels like a thin, albeit moderately
enjoyable, homage to the books.
Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical
16-Week Run, through January 5, 2020.
W 85th St
York, NY 11036
tickets and more information, visit lightningthiefmusical.com