By Joel Benjamin
My heart dropped a couple of inches as I stood outside the Lucille Lortel Theatre in the West Village awaiting the start of the new musical, The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical. More than half the audience pouring into the theatre were kids, aged eleven to fourteen.
What had I gotten myself into—a kiddy show?
Certainly, The Lightning Thief is aimed at that age group, most of whom have read the popular and clever Percy Jackson books written by Rick Riordan who, if this show is any evidence, never wrote down to his audience. Instead he brilliantly combined a cast of characters familiar to teens and pre-teens and skillfully added references to Ancient Greek mythology.
The “gimmick” of this show is that most of the characters are “half-bloods,” part human/part Greek god!
The Lightning Thief has been adapted by Joe Tracz (book) and Rob Rokicki (music and lyrics) and exuberantly directed by Stephen Brackett. It is also helped by Patrick McCollom’s very with-it choreography.
The musical is more than clever; it’s an exuberant and exciting story that, along the way, teaches ancient history with wit and without sense of pretense. The language is smart without being smart-ass and the characters are easily identifiable to both the young and old in the audience. In other words, there is something for everyone in The Lightning Thief.
Percy Jackson (played with élan by the youthful, handsome Chris McCarrell) is a failure at pretty much everything he does, most particularly school trips. One disastrous trip to a museum leads to Jackson’s expulsion from yet another school.
His frustrated mother, Sally (half-daughter of Aphrodite, played by Carrie Compere whose large, expressive voice is also put into service in several other parts) unenthusiastically enrolls Percy (who, it turns out is the son of Poseidon who plays a surprising part in the musical’s climactic moments) in Camp Half-Blood.
There he meets fellow half-bloods: Clarisse (tough-as-nails daughter of Aries, god of war, played by Sarah Beth Pfeifer who also ably impersonates additional characters such as a surreal Janis Joplin and an eager-beaver squirrel!); Mr. Brunner aka the god Chiron (Jonathan Raviv quite delicious in the role of a prancing centaur as well as the afore-mentioned Poseidon, Hades, Auntie Em, Kurt Cobain, etc.); Luke/Hermes (James Hayden Rodriguez who also becomes a scary minotaur, Mozart and Aries, with entertainingly charming results); Grover, a happy-go-lucky satyr, played with zest by George Salazar who somehow looks quite natural in hairy legs (!), also is a foul-tempered camp director and a ditzy Dionysus; and the brainy Annabeth, daughter of Athena, played by Kristin Stokes, whose wisdom comes in handy.
Percy and his friends set off on a cross-country trek in a quest to get to see Hades whose home is, logically, in Los Angeles. En route they meet helpful squirrels, vengeful gods and experience dangers that only these youngsters could overcome.
From the opening “Prologue” which proclaims that “the gods are real” to the finale, “Bring on the Monsters” in which the newly empowered teens know they can face any problems that might come their way, the songs are carefully crafted to express character and plot progression. The nasty camp director expresses his chagrin with “Another Terrible Day” while smarty-pants Annabeth reveals “My Grand Plan.” There are pop ballads and pop anthems such as “Killer Quest!” and Clarisse’s “Put You in Your Place.” Although mostly formulaic, the numbers have sufficient wit and are beautifully arranged by Rob Rokicki and music director Wiley Deweese who leads an effervescent four member band ensconced on a stage balcony.
Sydney Maresca’s costumes are a show in themselves, particularly the hairy legs of the satyr and the goofy Hawaiian shirt of Poseidon. Lee Savage’s scenery is quietly adaptable, taking the audience easily from museum to camp to a New Jersey woods and onward to the West Coast with stops in scary deep pits and hell, not to mention special effects like an exploding toilet and a burning bus. The sound design by Ryan Rumery expands the sonic experience while David Lander’s lighting turns the tiny Lortel stage into a series of colorful locations.
The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical (through May 6, 2017)
Lucille Lortel Theatre
121 Christopher Street, between Bleecker Street & Hudson Street, NYC
For tickets, call 866-811-4111 or visit www.LightningThiefMusical.com
Running time: two hours 10 minutes, including one intermission