By Amanda Steele
In 2014, Theaterworks USA adapted the first book of the series into a one-hour free musical that toured the country. From there, the musical continued to grow and finally ended up at a limited-run on Broadway at the Longacre Theater. Previews began on Sept. 20, and the show will run until January.
The music and lyrics were created by composer Rob Rokicki with playwright Joe Tracz. The cast has only seven members, so all of the cast members — except for Chris McCarell, who plays Percy — have multiple roles.
Just like the book, the story follows Percy Jackson as he discovers that he is a “half-blood,” meaning he has one mortal parent and one who is a Greek god. He winds up at Camp Half-Blood, where all the children of the gods go to be safe and train, and learns he is the forbidden son of the god Poseidon. This leads him and his best friend Grover (Jorrel Javier), a satyr, and another half-blood Annabeth (Kristin Stokes), daughter of Athena, on a quest. They must return the lightning that has been stolen from Zeus in order to both save Percy’s mother and prevent a war between the gods.
The most important thing to keep in mind if you’re considering seeing The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical is that it still has more of an off-Broadway feel. While there are some effects, especially lighting-wise, it doesn’t pretend to be something it’s not. This isn’t a show with a huge budget, and so it leans into its strengths. One of its biggest strengths is that it’s incredibly campy, and not in the Camp Half-Blood sense.
There are minimal props and effects, which include puppetry of a Minotaur as well as using toilet paper blown out by a leaf blower to represent water. There’s also a moment when one character is revealed to be a centaur that is so over-the-top campy you can’t help but laugh. Some of these moments might feel a little ridiculous at times, but The Lightning Thief is aware of this, which is what makes it fun for everyone involved.
The music is definably fun and rather edgy, although noting stands out as incredibly memorable. You’ll enjoy the songs while you’re listening, and they have a very rock musical vibe to them. One of the best songs is called “My Grand Plan” and it’s Annabeth’s solo. She talks about how she’s always been the smartest and toughest person around, and yet she’s still never the hero. This is an interesting, self-critical song that points out the issue with characters like Annabeth, a Hermione type, who are the most capable but still never the main hero compared to the white boy.
The standout singer amongst the cast is by far Jalynn Steele, who plays Sally Jackson and many other smaller parts. Her stage presence was impressive, and her singing voice was strong. Plus, she is able to deliver the show’s overarching theme, which is that “normal is a myth.”
As far as the acting is concerned, there was some impressive changing of characters. With most of the actors playing multiple parts, it was both hilarious and impressive to see these skills in action. The most distracting thing was that McCarrell seemed to be trying too hard to act as a geeky high schooler, in a way that read as quite awkward at times and needed to be reined in a bit. Javier was quite an endearing presence who really brought the youthfulness of the series to life. Even still, The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical might benefit from a slightly younger cast to play the main characters.
Fans of The Lightning Thief will especially be inspired by this show, and it’s a must-see for big fans who read the books and watched the film. This is also a musical that anyone who is really involved in a lot of fandoms might get into. If you’ve ever loved series like Harry Potter or any number of other fantasy series, and if you love fan works, you’ll appreciate what is going on here. It’s also important to remember this was originally adapted for a younger audience, so it’s not trying to be for adults.
There are quite a few jokes and moments that make a lot more sense if you’re familiar with the book. It relies heavily on tropes and expectations, so, if you’ve spent time in fandoms similar to this one, you’re going to be in on the jokes, too. If you’re not, The Lightning Thief musical will likely seem a bit too strange. Some awareness of the source material seems essential. However, even if you just have a small, base knowledge of the series and/or Greek mythology, you’ll likely enjoy the ride. This coming-of-age tale is endearing and fun, and you’ll laugh along, knowing the show is also in on the camp of it all with you, if you just appreciate it for what it is.
Tickets for The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical are on sale now.