The Lightning Thief – The Percy Jackson Musical: Half Blood Teenage Angst on a Quest
With a flash and a bang, this rock musical of Greek God mythology aspirations without the proportions roars into the Lucille Lortel Theater in Greenwich Village. It’s a stellar beginning, full of feisty energy and excitement. Based on the best-selling novel by Rick Riordan (which also was made into a movie a few years ago), The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical loudly trumpets the story of a young modern teenage boy on a quest of self-discovery. The show centers on a misfit desperate to find his place in the world, curious about his heritage, and eager to discover his worth in the eyes of himself and his peers. It’s a typical high school outcast story layered with an action-packed Greek mythological story (book: Joe Tracz). On the most part, as directed by Stephen Brackett, it’s innocent enough and a fair amount to fun, although moments border on the ridiculous and silly. The story is told by a mostly talented cast performing a high voltage rocking soundtrack (music & lyrics: Rob Rokicki; orchestrations: Wiley Deweese & Rokicki; music director: Deweese) delivered with a big wink and a smirk. The teenage girls in the audience lapped up this over the top musical with glee, smiling and applauding with abandonment, while the adults enjoyed themselves well enough, but not entirely enough to see this show without teen accompaniment.
Percy Jackson, played with a big grinned boy band angst by Chris McCarrell (Les Miserables Broadway revival) has quite the voice. At times, he sings with a rock star/glee cast-member greatness, while other times it hovers somewhere on the side of a whine, but he commands the stage with his teenage discomfort coupled with an appealing blend of fun and energy. We happily get on board with him and his crew as they venture out on a killer quest to try to stop an epic war between the Gods. At the same time and during the adventure, he slowly learns that the weaknesses he once viewed as a burden, might actually be the clues to his strengths; a great nod to positivity and embracing our uniqueness, something these kids in the audience gladly take in. To feel a sense of community and friendship is what Percy longs for and finds with Grover, played by the always appealing George Salazar (tick, tick,…BOOM!) and Annabeth, a wonderful perky Kristin Stokes (Fly by Night) at the camp for half bloods.
The rest of the cast, including Salazar, play numerous other characters, monsters, gods, and mortals. All to various degrees of success. Some characterizations are played primarily for laughs and are a bit over the top. Yes, I’m talking to you Salazar in your portrayal of Mr. D, a frustrated God and camp counselor/administrator. It’s fun and hilarious, but somewhere in that performance, a real person would have been a great thing to see. The direction seems to swing wildly from over-the-top clowning to more sincere moments of feeling. While not all the over-acting rings false, it doesn’t always ring true either. Jonathan Raviv (Atlantic Theater’s The Band’s Visit) as Chiron (and others) and James Hayden Rodriguez (Signature Theatre’s Crossing) as Luke (and others, namely his own father/God), are solid and sincere although sometimes the cast are saddled with distracting physical characteristics (Chiron’s gait) and sloppy choreography (Patrick McCollum, who did much better work in The Band’s Visit and Second Stage’s Man from Nebraska). The standout of the group, without a doubt, is the incredibly gifted Carrie Compere (The Color Purple) who magnificently balances playing Percy’s mother (the beautiful empowering song, ‘Strong‘), an Oracle (a fun piece of stage craft magic), and the elevator operator/guide into Hades (a marvelous Little Shop of Horror-esque, ‘D.O.A.‘), all with warmth, grace, humor, and a killer voice. She nearly steals the show every time she opens her mouth.
The overall themes of community and acceptance are wonderful to behold, and joyfully dished out to this mostly young audience. The dysfunctional family of God and their half blood children finding community and salvation, without the hiding and the shame illustrates the inventiveness and power this story has entwined within its DNA. I just wish it came in a better styled package. The design team, made up of set designer, Lee Savage, costume designer, Sydney Maresca, lighting designer, David Lander, and sound designer, Ryan Rumery all look like they could have used some more financial assistance to help this slightly cluttered mess of an environment and give it a good Dear Evan Hansen level makeover. There is a good show hidden amongst the scaffolding and high school production-level kitsch on stage, and although the teens didn’t seem to be bothered, it will take some work to raise this show from pedestrian to God-like.