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The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical

Exciting musical version of the cult Rick Riordan novel effectively alternates between heavy metal and pop songs, just right for its target audience.

Kristin Stokes as Annabeth, Chris McCarrell as Percy Jackson and George Salazar as Grover in a scene from “The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical” (Photo credit: Jeremy Daniels)

Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief

Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief

Theaterworks NYC’s stage version of Rick Riordan’s best-selling novel, The Lighting Thief, about Percy Jackson and other demi-gods, first seen in 2014, has returned in an expanded two act format that, from reaction of the audience at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, is sure to become a cult musical. This fast-paced fantasy-adventure story would not seem to be destined for the stage due to the number of special effects needed to tell the story. However, designer Lee Savage and other technicians have come up with a series of clever low tech solutions which are always inventive and always witty. Using masks, puppets and elaborate costuming, five members of the cast of seven play multiple roles which often require quick changes.

Joe Tracz’s libretto is quite faithful to the original novel and will not disappoint avid Rick Riordan fans. As a result of having to fight a Fury at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on a class field trip, Percy Jackson is expelled from school. He is surprised when his mother takes him to a safe haven on Long Island, Camp Half Blood, where demi-gods, the son and daughters of the Greek god go to learn how to deal with the real world and occasionally obtain a personal quest. There Percy meets his best friend, the nerdy Grover, who is actually a satyr and a relative of the god Pan; Annabeth, beautiful daughter of Athena; camp counselor Luke, wily son of Hermes, Silena, romantic daughter of Aphrodite; Clarisse, tough daughter of Ares, and cranky and caustic camp director Mr. D., aka Dionysus who is the god of wine. Even his benevolent Latin teacher, Mr. Brunner, from Manhattan turns up in his real form as Chiron, the wise centaur.

However, Percy does not suspect who his real father is, but when he wins the Capture the Flag contest by accidentally using water, it is evident that his father is Poseidon, god of the sea. When Zeus’ lightening bolt goes missing, Percy is accused of the crime and told he must go on a quest to Hades, which turns out to be in Los Angeles. He is told that he must “go west to face the treacherous lord,” “find what was stolen and, see it restored. However, he is warned that he “shall be betrayed by one who calls you friend.” At first he refuses, until he is reminded that he will find his mother in Hades after her fatal encounter with a Minotaur in order to save him.

Chris McCarrell as Percy Jackson and George Salazar as Mr. D. in a scene from “The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical” (Photo credit: Jeremy Daniels)

Proceeding on his cross country trip, Percy is accompanied by Annabeth who has never had her own quest, and Grover, his guardian angel, who has failed in his last one. On the way, they must fight the Furies, stay out of the way of the wrath of Medusa, take a motorcycle ride with Ares, and avoid The Lotus Hotel. Arriving at the lobby of DOA Records, they discover that Charon, the female ferryperson to the Underworld, is a diva who wants to be a recording star. Percy is confronted with the Pit of Tartarus and the titan Kronos, Hades himself, and finally meets his Dad, Poseidon. All is resolved but Percy, Annabeth and Grover know that they are just at the beginning of their tumultuous lives and adventures.

The score by Rob Rokicki is made up of loud, pulsating hard rock numbers and low-key pop ballads. Ironically, it is the pop songs which work the best in the context of the show as the words of the cunning and skillful teenage paeans to adolescence can be heard over the music. The main characters each have a passionate solo ballad in which he or she reveals what is troubling them the most: Percy’s “Good Kid,” Annabeth’s “My Grand Plan,” and Grover’s “The Tree on the Hill.”

Steven Brackett’s direction is assured and swift and the transitions between sequences are as quickly handled as cinema cuts. While Savage’s unit set is mainly Greek columns and scaffolding, various items are used for special locales like the museum, the camp, the bus, Hades, etc. Sydney Maresca’s costumes and the uncredited masks transform the characters so that some of them are unrecognizable in their various roles. Ryan Rumery’s sound design includes off-stage voices of the unseen gods as well as necessary sounds on the adventure.

While the youthful members of the cast are much older than the junior high school age characters in the book, they are convincing as teenagers in their various guises and have impressive vocal range. In the title role, Chris McCarrell, who has appeared on Broadway in the most recent revival of Les Miserables as Marius and on television in Peter Pan Live!, is personable as the conflicted youth who is a reluctant hero. His confusion and surprise as to what he has gotten himself into is always credible. Kristin Stokes makes a lovely Annabeth who is never overbearing in always being the smartest person in the room. George Salazar, who appeared in the revival of Jonathan Larson’s tick, tick, … Boom! earlier this season, continues to impress here as both the sad-sack Grover with his goat half, and the outrageous, angry Mr. D. who seems to hate his job watching over the demi-gods at Camp Half Blood.

James Hayden Rodriguez as Ares and Chris McCarrell as Percy Jackson in a scene from “The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical” (Photo credit: Jeremy Daniels)

Jonathan Raviv shows tremendous versatility returning again and again in totally different characterizations and costumes: the compassionate Latin teacher Mr. Brunner in a wheelchair, the wise centaur Chiron with a swishing tail, the cool Poseidon dressed in a Hawaiian shirt, the sinister Aunty Em aka Medusa, and Hades, god of the dead, an aging rock star. Carrie Compere plays a range of roles from adults to teenagers and everything in between: she impresses with her big voice as Percy’s mother Sally with her first song, “Strong,” and almost blows the roof off the theater as the diva/ferryperson Charon at the gates of Hades when she sings “DOA.”

James Hayden Rodriguez acquits himself well as all of the show’s villains: the two-timing Luke, the god of war Ares attired in red leather like a rock star, the Minotaur totally hidden by a huge bull’s head, as well as Percy’s unpleasant and smelly step-father Gabe. Sarah Beth Pfeifer gets the biggest workout playing eight roles, from Mrs. Dodds, a Fury posing as a substitute algebra teacher, who has a sword fight with Percy to the tough jock girl Clarisse at camp to the late Janis Joplin in Hades.

The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical is a clever entertainment from an exciting novel. Faithful to the source material, it should please both those who have read the book and those who have not. Unlike the similar Harry Potter films, this story is an excellent introduction – or review – of Greek mythology made relevant for our own time. The remarkable special effects are clever in their simple solutions to the story’s requirements. The seven-member cast playing thirty roles are both convincing and versatile as they change from one colorful three-dimensional character to another. This is one musical geared to teenagers that can be predicted to have a long and healthy life with many regional and school productions.

The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical (through May 6, 2017)

Lucille Lortel Theatre, 121 Christopher Street, between Bleecker and Hudson Streets, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 212-811-4111 or visit http://www.lightningthiefmusical.com

Running time: two hours and ten minutes with one intermission

Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief
About Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief (397 Articles)
Victor Gluck was a drama critic and arts journalist with Back Stage from 1980 – 2006. He started reviewing for TheaterScene.net in 2006, where he was also Associate Editor from 2011-2013, and has been Editor-in-Chief since 2014. He is a voting member of The Drama Desk, the Outer Critics Circle, the American Theatre Critics Association, and the Dramatists Guild of America. His plays have been performed at the Quaigh Theatre, Ryan Repertory Company, St. Clements Church, Nuyorican Poets Café and The Gene Frankel Playwrights/Directors Lab.

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