Review by Elyse Trevers
Perseus Jackson is a demi-god, half-mortal, half-god, but he doesn’t know it. When he finally learns his true parentage, born to a mortal mother and the god Poseidon, he begins to realize why he’s always been a misfit and has been expelled from six schools. The Lighting Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical at the Longacre Theatre, based on the novel by Rick Riorden, has special appeal for preteens. Riorden cleverly incorporates elements of classic Greek mythology with familiar parent-child dynamics.
After Percy’s mother realizes she can no longer protect him, she decides to take him to a Camp for Half-Bloods. En route, she sacrifices herself to save him. But he is rescued and arrives at the camp. Most of the campers have strained relationships with their immortal-parent; some like Percy have never met them. At camp, he learns his true parentage but is accused of having stolen Zeus’ thunderbolt. To prevent a war between the three main gods, Zeus, Poseidon and Hades, Percy sets off with Grover, a satyr (half-goat -half-man) and Annabeth, daughter of a mortal and Athena. Ironically, the underworld is in California, so the trio must cross the country to speak to Hades. Along the way they encounter a series of Greek monsters, such as Medusa, the Lotus Eaters and The Furies.
Using YA (young adult) source material, Joe Tracz (Be More Chill) wrote the book. and Rob Rokicki created the music, lyrics, and orchestrations.
Percy is played by Chris McCarrell, fresh off his role as Marius in Les Miserables. McCarrell has a terrific voice and a boyish persona. The others in this small cast play several roles, and most are making their Broadway debuts, having been with The Lightning Thief in workshops or on tour. Jorrel Javier is lovable as Grover, the satyr, and strident as the angry Mr.D (Dionysus.) Kristin Stokes is a fine Annabeth, the smart one, and Jalynn Steele plays Percy’s mother as well as other roles.
The play is ‘low-tech” with a set consisting of a scaffold and Grecian columns, decorated with graffiti. Special effects aren’t elaborate, the most creative being “water” (Percy’s special talent) suggested by toilet paper (really fun when you see it and if you’re 6 years old) The monsters the three encounter are garbed in amateurish-looking costumes, but little of that matters to the youngsters in the audience who are familiar with the book. Having seen the musical in 2017, I hoped for an upgrade with more sophisticated effects. The Longacre is four times the size of the Lucille Lortel and what seemed creative Off-Broadway felt amateurish on Broadway.
Almost everyone in the theater accompanied a youngster or two and the kids seemed to be enjoying the adventures. Although you don’t need to read the book, it helps since parts of the story are glossed over quite quickly. The Lightning Thief subtly teaches lessons about fitting in and being different, yet it does it without preaching. Maybe the kid in school who is dyslexic and a screw-up has some special powers. So maybe we should all be nicer to each other
because you never know.